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The Supreme Court determined Tuesday that a physical action performed by a teacher against a student can be considered instructional in certain cases rather than corporal punishment, which is illegal.

The top court issued the ruling on a damages suit in which a now 14-year-old boy in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, sued the city after a substitute teacher at his elementary school grabbed him by his lapels in 2002 to scold him for a practical joke.

The lower courts ruled that the action constituted corporal punishment and ordered the city to pay compensation to the boy. The Supreme Court, however, ruled otherwise.

The top court said some physical actions by teachers can’t be deemed illegal.

In the Kumamoto case, the top court said: “The act of the substitute teacher was considered physical action, but he intended to educate the boy, not inflict suffering on him.”

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