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Friday, January 25, 2008

Bangle case can go to court, judge rules

But Sikh pupil at centre of row must stay off school during proceedings

A judge ruled this week that claims of discrimination brought against a school by a 14-year-old Sikh pupil should be heard at the High Court.

But it was also decided that Sarika Watkins-Singh should not be allowed to return to Aberdare Girls’ School in Rhondda Cynon Taf during any legal proceedings, a blow to London-based human rights group Liberty which has filed the challenge.

The legal battle, expected to be heard within the next two weeks, follows the exclusion of Miss Watkins-Singh by her school’s governing body last November.

It took the disciplinary action after Miss Watkins-Singh refused to remove a steel bangle, called a Kara, one of the five Ks in Sikh religion. The governors decided it was against the school’s code of conduct, which only allows a wrist-watch and a single pair of stud earrings as part of the uniform.

However, Liberty claims the decision is illegal and in breach of race relations as well as human rights laws. The group also argues that it contravenes a 25-year-old Law Lords decision to allow Sikh children to wear items representing their faith – including turbans.

Anna Fairclough, Liberty’s legal officer, said she was pleased the case was going ahead but disappointed that its additional request for Miss Watkins-Singh to return to the school was rejected. The group is set to appeal against the decision.

“Nothing less than our traditions of religious freedom and racial tolerance are on trial here,” she said.

“Individuals from any religion who wish to modestly express their faith should not be denied a proper education, as Miss Singh has.”

Meanwhile, new guidance issued by the Assembly government in response to the high-profile case, says excluding pupils for breaking school uniform rules should only become an option as a “last resort”. [Link]

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