Teachers and students work very closely together every day at school, so coming into physical contact with each other is often an unavoidable part of the teacher-student interaction.
But many teachers are often confused about appropriate ways to touch their students and are keen to know the laws surrounding interaction. Is it appropriate to touch a student’s hand to correct the way they hold a pen or guide their shoulders during a sports training session?
In Western Australia, what is inappropriate contact and whether it is reasonable is often the ultimate question when a matter goes before a Magistrate or, more commonly, a judge and jury in a District Court.
WA’s Criminal Code allows teachers to use reasonable force for the purpose of correction of a child, but there are no hard and fast rules in this regard.
From a legal point of view in the hard-nosed world of criminal law, it is certainly my advice not to touch children in any form and, only if it is absolutely necessary, to do so in the company of other adults.
In Western Australia, there are two offences broadly speaking with which a teacher can be charged in relation to physical contact with students – Common Assault and Indecent Assault.
More often than not, the discretion of whether to charge the teacher is one that lies with the Police after a complaint has been made by a principal, parent or student.
If a complaint is made, the Police have discretion to charge and, in most cases, Police will charge a teacher on the basis of evidence from either a child or a parent.
Regrettably, by the time police are informed of an allegation, a teacher is in grave danger of putting at risk a very long career by having to answer to a criminal court in relation to the allegation.