English Criminal Law and Ethnic Minority Customs

by Sebastian Poulter, Butterworths, London, 1986. (ISBN 00113259765)

A Few Brief Extracts:

Chapter 6, Section E, subsections 5.30-6.25.

Circumcision and Genital Mutilation

"The basic right to bodily integrity which everyone possesses under the English common law means that any unlawful interference in this right amounts to an assault or battery, at the very least, and might in appropriate circumstances entail the statutory offence of grievous bodily harm. The question raised in cases of circumcision, excision or infibulation is whether the operation can be justified as constituting lawful as opposed to unlawful interference with this right."

"...although the matter is not entirely free from doubt, it seems that a parent may equally authorise a non-therapeutic operation, provided it is not actively against the child's interests. This would appear to have been the basis upon which the vast majority of male infants have been circumcised in this country with impunity from time immemorial.[sic]"

"It thus appears that, at common law, while the circumcision of male infants here is lawful, provided that parental consent has been given, no amount of parental agreement or support can legitimise the circumcision, excision or infibulation of a young girl in this country, unless the operation is for therapeutic purposes."

CIRP logo Note:

This text is at least 20 years old. Since the time of writing, medical science has developed a substantial amount of evidence that circumcision is indeed actively against a child's best interest. Moreover, courts have developed new limitations on parental rights to consent to non-therapeutic procedures. Therefore, Dr. Poulter's conditions, under which infant circumcision would be lawful, may no longer be satisfied. Moreover, the Human Rights Act 1998 injects a new body of human rights law into the equation.


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