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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 11:18 GMT
Schoolgirl loses veil legal case
girl wearing niqab
The school allows Muslim girls to wear scarves but not niqabs
A 12-year-old schoolgirl has failed in an attempted legal challenge to her school's ban on a full-face veil.

Mr Justice Silber had been told that the girl's three older sisters had attended the same school and had worn the niqab with no problems.

But the school, in Buckinghamshire, had told the girl it was not acceptable because teachers believed it would make communication and learning difficult.

The judge has now rejected her lawyers' arguments for a judicial review.

Our new uniform guidance, due out shortly, will take into account the decision made in this case
Andrew Adonis
Schools Minister
They said after the judgment that the family were "bitterly disappointed".

They are considering making an appeal, but would have to make a separate application for this as the judge refused them permission to do so.

For legal reasons the girl and the school have not been identified publicly.

'Religious tolerance'

It is understood she has been taught at home after falling foul of the uniform policy last autumn.

About 120 of the school's 1,300-plus pupils are Muslims. About half of them wear the hijab headscarf, which is permitted.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Silber stressed that he was dealing with one particular case - not the wider issue of whether the niqab should be worn, in schools or anywhere else.

He said the ban was "proportionate" in the light of certain factors:

  • the veil prevented teachers from seeing facial expressions - a key element in effective classroom interaction
  • the necessity to enforce a school uniform policy under which girls of different faiths would have a sense of equality and identity
  • security - the head teacher had said an unwelcome visitor could move around the school incognito
  • the need to avoid peer pressure on girls to take up wearing the veil
The girl's solicitor, Shah Qureshi, said: "We believe there are a number of errors in the decision that have led to Mr Justice Silber reaching the wrong conclusions.

"It is surprising that he decided that the school had not infringed my client's 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."

New guidance

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis said: "We welcome this judgement. Decisions about uniforms and appropriate dress are rightly matters for individual schools to decide in consultation with parents.

"Our new uniform guidance, due out shortly, will take into account the decision made in this case."

The school's head teacher said it welcomed the court ruling.

"We want to focus now on supporting our student. We hope that she will return to school and resume her education as part of our community."

The school had a long tradition of serving that community, she said, and was proud to welcome pupils from all faiths and religions with a view to helping them achieve their potential in a supportive learning environment.

Bucks County Council's cabinet member for schools, Marion Clayton, said its prime concern had been that the pupil should be in school receiving an appropriate education.

"To that end we have worked with the school and family to seek a resolution. It is unfortunate that this could not be done without recourse to a judicial review. "We hope that this pupil will now return to full-time education."

Costs in the case were awarded against the family.


SEE ALSO
School head explains niqab ban
12 Feb 07 |  Education
Legal fight for school veil
08 Feb 07 |  Education
Parent fights over child's veil
24 Jan 07 |  Education
School wins Muslim dress appeal
22 Mar 06 |  Education
Veil row woman challenges sacking
20 Jan 07 |  Bradford
Dutch Muslims condemn burqa ban
18 Nov 06 |  Europe

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