My first instinct here is to join the minority opinion of the court and vote with Jack and David. The thing is that, even though the rule is clear, I have no respect for that rule, and therefore it doesn't feel right to punish harshly.
I found it interesting that in other BOTD threads people tend to be much more lenient, and here, for an offence that nowadays we would regard as unimportant, since the rule itself seems ridiculous, most people go for the slipper.
Yes, I realize that the times have changed a lot. Certainly the use of corporal punishment was much more widespread and generally accepted. However, in other BOTD threads it is assumed that spankings are accepted within the naughty boy's family... Perhaps, even in a spanking family, people nowadays tend to think of spanking as a last resource, rather than a standard response to misbehavior.
Or perhaps you guys are thinking that what seems now a silly rule was not seen as silly then, and maybe it was legitimate for them to feel that way. Perhaps it was a way to keep a high standard of discipline, reasonable when you are raising a generation of youngster who might be called to defend their country and empire in war, or perhaps it was a way to encourage pride and a sense of belonging towards the school. I find that latest mentality quite alien, but some of our Commonwealth writers have helped me understand it in part through their stories. If you have never read Naturalman's stories, I would encourage you to seek them at the MMSA, because they are very strongly based on real-life experiences and offer a fascinating glimpse of how some of these British-tradition schools were able to become a source of pride and sense of belonging for their students, even though the discipline was so harsh by today's standards.
In that context, a teacher who refused to enforce the school standards might be seen by some with a certain disdain, seeing his actions as a sign of weakness or lack of values rather than a sign of compassion. He might be seen as letting down the school and the pupils themselves.
So, the question is: trying to put myself in that time and circumstances, do I still think that the rule about wearing the cap is arbitrary and senseless?
With some reluctance, I will still vote for (relative) leniency this time. I will approach them, letting them see me and, hopefully, put on their caps. Then I'll tell that the morning mist sometimes prevents me from seeing clearly from a distance, but that I hope I never have to see them not wearing their caps when they are supposed to do so, since I would then have to slipper any capless boy I caught.
I will tell the prefect to report to me at lunchtime, however. I will tell him that I respect it when a prefect chooses to guide the boys in his charge instead of always applying the letter of the law, but that he is letting the school down for not doing any of those things. He should have at least made those pupils put on their caps. If he is not willing to respect the school rules maybe he should not be a prefect. I will then say that this time I will not report him to the headmaster, so he will remain a prefect, but that I will give him a good slippering.