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Muslim School Girl to Challenge Veil Ban High Court Decision

22/2/2007

In a case where a Muslim girl, referred to as X, challenged her school’s decision to ban her wearing the niqab or muslim veil, the High Court handed down judgment in the school’s favour today.

The girl’s lawyers said that she and her family was bitterly disappointed with the decision and were considering appealing to the Court of Appeal.

Her solicitor and partner at City Firm Webster Dixon, Shah Qureshi, said:

” My client and her family are deeply disappointed with the decision. She will be considering all the options including an appeal to the Court of Appeal whilst maintaining a dialogue with the school. My client believes the school infringed her freedom to manifest her religion given the fact that she entered the school on the understanding that the wearing of the veil was allowed when being taught by male teachers. She also had a legitimate expectation given the practice of allowing her sisters to wear the veil “

The girl entered the all girl school on the understanding that, on reaching puberty, she would be allowed to wear the niqab while being taught by male teachers. This was in line with her religious faith. Her solicitor and partner at city firm Webster Dixon, Shah Qureshi, said:

In various press reports, my client and her family have been portrayed as extremists. However, many Muslim women hold the same views and conscience. Just like in any other religion, Islam has many orthodoxies, and for some the wearing of the veil is obligatory when in the presence of males.

The girl entered the school on the expectation that she would be allowed to wear the niqab on reaching puberty. Her three older sisters had been at the school previously and they had all been allowed to wear the niqab between the years 1995 to 2004. They were permitted to wear the niqab and this did not prevent them from participating in class and playing a full role at school. Shah Qureshi said:

The wearing of the niqab does not seem to have affected their education. All three sisters did well in their A-Levels and they have progressed to the extent that one is in medical research, the second is training to be a doctor, and the third is studying at university. They were willing to make compromises and various adaptations were agreed to allow them to participate at the school.

” The family are a great example of being very religious whilst at the same time being fully integrated into school life and society. Their activities included at school included tutoring others in Maths, participating in schemes to assist Autistic children in Penn, being nominated form representative, playing netball and entering drama competitions. They are certainly not the type of family that believe in separatism.”

Earlier in her school career, the girl had worn the niqab occasionally with no complaints. She and her family naturally assumed that she would be allowed to wear the niqab as her sisters before her. No suggestion was made that the school’s uniform policy had been changed.

However, when the girl attended school for the new term, she was told that the wearing of niqab did not conform to school uniform policy. However, as far as the girl and her family are aware, the school’s policy makes no mention of the niqab and there was a clear practice in allowing it in the case of her sisters.

The girl’s father wrote to the school on 9 October 2006 indicating that his three daughters has attended the school over a ten-year period and that they had actively participated in school life. He confirmed that the family had been willing to make adjustments that allowed them to continue at the school. He confirmed that the family wished to settle the matter without conflict with the school.

A meeting was subsequently held at the school that was ultimately unsuccessful. The girl and her family claim that the school was unwilling to allow the wearing of the niqab under any circumstances or to make any concession in this regard. The girl and her family felt they had no choice but to issue proceedings because the school had indicated that she would be excluded if she attended school wearing the niqab.

The girl applied for a judicial review of the school’s decision on the following grounds:

  1. She had a legitimate expectation that she would be permitted to wear the niqab at the school, this was one of the reasons for her entry to the school and there was no objective justification for changing the uniform policy.
  2. The girl and her sisters were in a similar position and yet her sisters went through the school successfully. There is no good reason to treat the girl any differently to her sisters.
  3. The refusal to allow the girl to wear the niqab does not appear to be based on careful consideration or consultation with the religious leaders unlike the approach taken by the Denbigh High School in the case brought by its former pupil Shabina Begum.

Shah Qureshi summarised the girl’s case in the following way:

“This is a case about religious tolerance and the freedom to practice your religion as long as it does not interfere with others. This freedom is enshrined within Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. My client and her family are not the extremists that they have been portrayed as by some elements of the press. All she wants is to be able to practice her deeply held beliefs whilst getting on with her daily life. She is not impinging on the rights of others and has always been willing to meet with the school to reach a resolution.”

 

 

 

Note to Editor

Please note that the identity of the parties is subject to a court order protecting their identities. Any report should comply with this order by keeping the identity of the parties anonymous.

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