Decision on circumcision/Urteil zu Beschneidung

As has been widely reported in Germany and abroad, in May Cologne Regional Court (Landgericht – a court sitting with one professional judge and two lay judges) decided that circumcising a child unable to give consent, for religious reasons, with no medical indication, constitutes bodily harm and is therefore a criminal offence.

In the case in question, a doctor had been prosecuted because it appeared he had caused unnecessary bleeding, but his medical skilled was found to be perfectly OK. The court, on appeal, held that he would have committed bodily harm but he was unable to know that what he was doing was unlawful – he was subject to a mistake as to the law (Verbotsirrtum). But of course doctors can’t claim not to know the law in future after the publicity this case has had.

On weighing the interests of the parents in the religious upbringing of their child against the child’s interest in physical integrity, the court found that the circumcision was unconstitutional.

There have been a number of objections to the decision, not just by Jews and Muslims, but also by German lawyers. For instance, the court rejected the argument that the parents could justify the act (German criminal defences are divided into grounds of excuse and grounds of justification).

This decision doesn’t bind German courts, but it may be followed.

At the UK Human Rights Blog, Adam Wagner (German court rules child’s religious circumcision can be a criminal offence) actually got the court to send him the original judgments (I noticed that at least one German law blog linked to this British site for the text). He also translated it through Google Translate (alas, that version is not up there, but it could be reconstructed), and on the basis of this he got the full gist of the judgment, as far as I could see. However, I decided to translate the judgment myself and see if I could improve on Google, and my relatively quick and dirty translation can be found through a link on the UK Human Rights Blog article. I omitted all the literature references (I suppose these came from the judge rather than the two post office employees who were the lay judges!).

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