Anna Fairclough: The lessons all schools need to learn from this judgment The Independent Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Sarika Watkins-Singh, a 14- year-old Welsh-Punjabi Sikh, was forbidden from wearing her kara, a 5mm-wide plain steel bangle, to her state school. Because of her decision to continue wearing it, she was taught in complete segregation from other pupils for almost two months, banned from speaking to friends at school and even escorted to the toilet by a teacher, who waited outside.
Sarika won her case convincingly and hopefully schools will take note of the core messages in the judgment. The first of these is about individual freedom and the rights of minorities. You need a very good reason to interfere with the rights of individuals to express their identity and none was forthcoming in this case. Second, one size does not fit all. To achieve true equality, people in different situations sometimes have to be treated differently. Third, schools should seek to prevent racism by teaching students to value and respect difference, not by requiring minority groups to conform to the mainstream model.
This judgment does not mean all groups everywhere are always permitted to wear items representing their faith. But, hopefully, this will bring to a halt the perception that all religious items can lawfully be banned. Nor does this judgment only apply to Sikhs, who are recognised in law as a racial, as well as a religious group. Since the advent of the Equality Act 2006, all religions are protected in exactly the same way.
by Anna Fairclough, Liberty's legal officer, represented the Singhs
Sarika Singh - Court Case starts today (17 June 2008) in London
at Royal Court of Justice, Strand, LONDON WC2A 2LL COURT 27, FOR HEARING - CO/11435/2007
- Before MR JUSTICE SILBER, Tuesday 17 June, 2008, At half past 10. The case is expected to last for 3 days
The Queen on the application of S v Governing Body Of Aberdare Girls School
"It was one of the symbols of their Sikh faith and not a piece of jewellery", said lawyers for 14-year-old Sarika at the start of a hearing to decide whether a school was justified in banning her from attending classes while she insisted on wearing the bracelet.
Lawyers for the girl told the High Court that she was a victim of unlawful discrimination when she was excluded from Aberdare Girls' School in south Wales last November after refusing to remove the simple steel bracelet.
Mr Justice Silber said he would like to see one of the bangles - known as the Kara - at some point during the hearing, which is set for three days.
In the meantime, Sarika's counsel, Helen Mountfield, referred the judge to a photograph of Panesar wearing the Kara as one of the symbols of the Sikh faith. Read more....
In the News
The Press Association
Girl wins religious bangle case at 11.00am London time 29 July 2008 - The Press Association
A Sikh teenager excluded from school for breaking a "no jewellery" rule by refusing to remove a wrist bangle which is central to her faith was a victim of unlawful discrimination, a judge ruled.
As a result of the judgment in the High Court, Sarika Watkins-Singh, 14, will be returning to Aberdare Girls' School in South Wales in September - wearing the Kara, a slim steel bracelet.
Her lawyers had told Mr Justice Silber that the Kara was as important to her as it was to England spin bowler Monty Panesar, who has been pictured wearing the bangle.
Sarika, of mixed Welsh and Punjabi origin, of Cwmbach, near Aberdare, was at first taught in isolation and eventually excluded for refusing to take off the bangle in defiance of the school's policy, which prohibits the wearing of any jewellery other than a wrist watch and plain ear studs.
The judge declared that the school was guilty of indirect discrimination under race relations and equality laws.
After the judgment, Sarika's mother, Sinita, 38, said: "We are over the moon. It is just such a relief."
Afterwards, a spokeswoman for the family hailed it as a "common sense" judgment.
Sarika said: "I am overwhelmed by the outcome and it's marvellous to know that the long journey I've been on has finally come to an end. I'm so happy to know that no-one else will go through what me and my family have gone through." She added: "I just want to say that I am a proud Welsh and Punjabi Sikh girl."
Judgement: More News coverage
- bbc.co.uk Sikh girl wins bangle law battle - see video report
- telegraph.co.uk Sikh teenager wins bangle discrimination case - see video report
- timesonline.co.uk Sarika Watkins-Singh wins right to wear bangle at school - see video report
- dailymail.co.uk Sikh girl, 14, banned from school for wearing religious bangle wins High Court discrimination battle
- reuters.com Sikh teenager wins bangle law fight
- inthenews.co.uk Schoolgirl wins Sikh bangle judgment
- guardian.co.uk Is the Sikh schoolgirl's bangle law a bungled one?
- International Herald Tribune Sikh teen wins UK discrimination claim after exclusion from class over bracelet
- indiatimes.com Welsh-Sikh teenager wins right to wear kada to school
- AFP Sikh teen wins bangle court case against school
Lawyers representing Sarika Singh, 14, are hoping the judge will rule that she was the victim of unlawful discrimination, in a case which could prove to be pivotal in the debate over religious dress in schools.
Aberdare Girls' School in south Wales insisted that Sakira take classes on her own for two months before finally excluding her last November after she refused to remove the small steel bangle, known as a Kara.
The school, at which Sarika was the only Sikh, does not permit jewellery other than wristwatches and plain ear studs. Read more ....
The Press Association
The mother of a teenage girl excluded from school for wearing a religious symbol said her education had suffered immensely as a result.
Sinita Singh's 14-year-old daughter, Sarika, has not attended Aberdare Girls' School in south Wales since being told last year she could not wear a bracelet known as a Kara. Her case will be heard at the High Court in London on Tuesday and is due to last three days.
Sarika enrolled at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School earlier this year, which is allowing her to wear the bracelet, and will stay there until the legal process is complete.
The family travelled to 10 Downing Street to hand in a petition which calls upon Prime Minister Gordon Brown to intervene in the matter "to show discrimination is totally unacceptable". Read more....
Court Hearing: 17-19 June 2008
17 June 2008
- cbbcnews Row over girl's religious bangle
- reuters.com Schoolgirl goes to court over bangle ban
- mailonsunday.co.uk Schoolgirl's court battle to wear Sikh bangle 'just like Monty Panesar'
- www.hindustantimes.com Bangle issue: Indian girl moves London High Court
- Evening Post Breaking News: Wrist bangle is 'Symbol of Faith', High Court hears
- guardian.co.uk Excluded Sikh schoolgirl takes bangle battle to high court
- telegraph.co.uk Sikh girl takes her fight to wear religious bracelet at school to the High Court
- bbc.co.uk 'Bangle' girl case reaches court
- AFP Sikh teen seeks discrimination ruling over bracelet
- independent.co.uk Sikh schoolgirl, 14, fights for right to wear bangle
Before 17 June 2008
Bangle case cost school £76,000
British Labour MP Ann Clwyd has strongly criticised school governors after it emerged that their decision to ban a Sikh pupil, Sarika Singh from wearing a religious bracelet called a Kara will cost the school more than £76,000 ($100,000). Further, it is understood that the "wasted" legal costs estimated in the region of £50,000 incurred by the human rights group Liberty in defending the rights of the Sikh pupil will also need to be paid by the school.
It estimated that this will bring the total bill to the school of £126,000 or $160,000. This money, which should have been spent on the education of the pupils at the school will now be diverted to pay for legal costs of an action by the school which was doomed from inception. How will this affect the education of the pupils at the school?
This now begs the question of whether school governor acted in a reasonable and fair manner considering the intense criticism of their action at the time. Read the news report......
- The Sun - "Bracelet case bill is £76,000" November 17, 2008
A SCHOOL that banned a Sikh girl from wearing a religious bracelet has landed a £76,000 legal bill.
Aberdare Girls School in South Wales may now have to pay her costs too.
Yesterday local Labour MP Ann Clwyd blasted governors for “wasting taxpayers’ money”. She said: “I told them they’d lose.”
- Western Mail, by Martin Shipton Nov 15 2008
The school argued she could not wear the bracelet because it contravened a ban on jewellery.
With the help of the human rights group Liberty, Sarika challenged the school’s decision and won a judicial review case in the High Court.
Now, following a Freedom of Information request by local Labour MP Ann Clwyd, it has emerged that the school’s legal fees came to £76,699.40. Having lost the case, the school will also have to pay Liberty’s legal costs, which are understood to be on top of that amount.
Ms Clwyd said: "I am very concerned about the waste of taxpayers’ money on a case which I and others told the governors they would lose. I knew from speaking to fellow Labour MPs representing areas like Wolverhampton, where there is a large Sikh population, that Sikhs are a protected minority under the Race Relations Act. There is an important case dating from 1983 that went to the House of Lords and confirmed Sikhs’ rights."
"I am afraid that I have not found the school at all co-operative in dealing with inquiries I have made about this matter."
“I do not know which budget the legal fees will be paid from.”
Ian Blake, who chairs the school’s governing body, did not respond to an e-mail we sent him and no-one else at the school was prepared to comment.
A spokeswoman for Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, the local education authority, said: “This is a matter entirely for the school, which is responsible for its own budget.”
The school face £200,000 legal bill
Brave Sikh school Sarika Watkins-Singh eventually won her desire to wear her Kara in July 2008, she was dismissed from school, then faced months of studying alone, but eventually High Court supported her rights.
Now her school faces legal bills of £200,000, it is also believe Sarika may have a cheque from the education bosses, who have been ordered to pay the student banned from wearing the Sikh Kara bangle damages believed to be at least five figures.
Aberdare Girls’ School, in Aberdare, Wales, is reeling from the bill, which includes an invoice from human rights group Liberty, who brought the case on behalf of Sarika Watkins-Singh, 15.
The school’s own legal fees top £76,000. The school denied any racial discrimination and Ms Watkins-Singh spent nine weeks being taught in isolation because the bangle was against its uniform policy.
Miss Watkins-Singh won the case after a three-day hearing last June, in which her exclusion was ruled to be “unlawful”.
The school, with an annual budget of around £2.2million, has already paid £60,000 to Liberty but disputes an extra bill of £80,000, the Daily Express reported
TaxPayers’ Alliance spokesman Mark Wallace said: “This case means a headache for the taxpayer who will ultimately be forced to stump up.”
He added: “This just emphasises the need for schools to be given full control of their rules and regimes without risk of politically correct enforcement. The problem in this case arose because of interference from other parties.”
Ms Watkins-Singh’s case caused controversy last year when it emerged that she had been excluded from school.
In November, it was thought that the legal bill would amount to the school’s £76,000 costs.
But now campaigners say the school should never have taken the battle to the High Court.”
- MP defends student’s Sikh religious views
- High Court to determine if Sikh schoolgirl’s exclusion is illegal
- Sarika Singh
- Liberty files legal challenge for Sarika
- MP defends student’s Sikh religious views
- The right to wear the 5Ks
- Mandla v Dowell Lee
- National Protest by UK Sikhs
- Turban, UK Legislation Regarding its use by Sikhs
- Articles of faith
- Sample letter regarding 5ks
- supportsarika.co.uk Support Sarika site - Sign the Petition - Watch the video.
- unitedsikhs.org Belgian Court overturns ban on Sikh head-covering in school 01 July 2008
|These articles deal with Sikh's Five ks|