Six month wait for verdict on impact of jilbab ruling

Schools will have to wait another six months for clarification on how to behave when considering decisions that could impact on pupils’ human rights.

Confusion arose in March when the Court of Appeal ruled that Denbigh High School in Luton had acted unlawfully when it excluded Shabina Begum for ignoring the school’s uniform policy by wearing a jilbab, a strict form of Muslim dress which leaves only the hands and face exposed.

The House of Lords has now announced that the school’s appeal against the ruling will be heard in early February 2006.

Last week, education secretary Ruth Kelly backed the appeal and sought leave to intervene in it to help with clarifying points about the department’s guidance and its understanding of the law in the light of the case.

A DfES spokesperson said the department was concerned about the “apparent burden” the Court of Appeal ruling might impose on schools and local education authorities when considering matters where human rights claims could arise.

Stressing that Kelly’s intervention was not about school uniform policies or religion, she warned that schools must not end up being forced to become backroom lawyers.

“Our interest is in clarifying what the Human Rights Act requires,” she said. “The department’s sole concern here is to ensure that the law is clarified on this issue and that we are able to provide meaningful and helpful guidance to governing bodies of schools and other educational institutions of these changes.”

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