Bracelet battle costs soar to £200,000
When a High Court judge ruled last year that a Welsh school was guilty of indirect discrimination against a 14-year-old Sikh girl the school was faced with legal costs of £76,000 for defending its position.
Now it has emerged that the school‘s legal costs have risen to around £200,000.
This includes £60,000 to human rights group, Liberty, who brought the case for Sarika Watkins-Singh, now 15, from Cwmbach. The student was suspended from Aberdare Girls’ School after insisting she should be allowed to wear her kara wrist bangle, one of the five symbols of Sikh identity.
Sarika is thought to be in line for five-figure damages as well, for disruption to her education.
The Daily Express broke news of the huge hike in legal costs, which, it says, would be borne from the school budget of £2.2 million if an appeal against £80,000 of the bill did not succeed.
The school had denied racial discrimination and Sarika spent nine weeks being taught in isolation because the bangle was against its uniform policy.
Later she was suspended and although the school said it would welcome her back after the court ruling she never returned and has been receiving home tuition ever since.
Local Labour MP Ann Clwyd used Freedom of Information legislation to uncover the costs figure of £76,000, which she condemned as a waste of taxpayers’ money as she and others had warned the school it would lose the case.
Sarika’s family brought a claim under race relations and equality laws after the girl was excluded in November 2007, for breaking the school’s “no jewellery” rule.
Judge Mr Justice Silber ruled in Sarika’s favour in the summer and she was given permission to return to school to start her GCSE studies, wearing the bracelet.
Judge Mr Justice Silber said he had been told the kara denoted “God’s infinity” and was effectively a “handcuff to God”. He rejected a claim that it could be seen as a “symbol of affluence” and said many watches allowed at the school were more expensive than the steel bracelet.
Sarika, who called herself a “proud Welsh and Punjabi Sikh girl”, said she was happy that no other Sikh girl would ever be banned from wearing a religious bracelet.
Ann Clwyd said that MPs for Midlands areas where there were large Sikh populations had told her that Sikhs were a protected minority under the Race Relations Act and the school had been warned of this.
The news of the escalating costs brought mixed reactions according to the Daily Express.
TaxPayers’ Alliance spokesman Mark Wallace said the taxpayer would have to stump up the money. He condemned political interference – schools needed to be given full control of their rules and regimes without risk of “politically correct enforcement”.
Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, thought the school had been unwise to pursue its battle to the High Court.
In Brisbane, Australia, a school was forced to apologise for refusing to enrol a 12-year-old Sikh boy because he would not discard his turban and cut his hair to conform to uniform regulations.
Ormiston College was taken to Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Commission by his parents.
The family received an undisclosed out-of-court settlement but said their main aim was to create understanding in the community of the importance of being able to choose an education while maintaining your religious beliefs and identity.
The boy was refused admission to exclusive Ormiston College in 2006. He now attends another private school.
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