UNITED SIKHSWinner of the Sikhs and Charities Award
May 18, 2011
4th Jeth (Samvat 543 Nanakshahi)
Press Release
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UK Tribunal: Kirpan Ban Justified Against Sikh Prison Officer

“It’s very disturbing that the Employment Tribunal Judge has ruled that the Kirpan ban was justified even though the government had agreed in principle to a proposal to allow the wearing of the Kirpan by Sikh prison staff.

Further, the judge ruled that Jagdip Singh did not have any protection under the Race Relations Act in his capacity as an initiated Sikh, which mandates him to wear the Kirpan at all times. The Judge ruled that the Kirpan ban was justified because the evidence suggests that only 10 per cent of UK Sikhs are initiated and hence the discriminatory impact on Sikhs was small.”: Mejindarpal Kaur, Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS, who was approached for help by Jagdip Singh following his dismissal for wearing his Kirpan.

I am very disappointed with the judgment because it has justified a blanket ban on the Kirpan and no Amritdhari (initiated) Sikh may ever work in any capacity in the UK Prison Service,” said Jagdip Singh, 26 year old ex prison officer who sued the Prison Service and its contractor Serco, after he was dismissed from his job for wearing a Kirpan.

“It is a disappointing result and our client is considering the judgment,” said Kulvinder Kaur, solicitor representing Jagdip Singh.

Birmingham, UK - An employment tribunal ruled today (18th May 2011) that a Sikh Prison officer was not discriminated against when he was asked to remove his Kirpan, his article of faith, even though a proposal  to allow the wearing of the Kirpan had already been agreed in principle, following comprehensive consultation by the Ministry of Justice.

Employment Judge NJ Roper who delivered the reserved judgment said that Prison Service Orders, PSO 4550, were in effect a blanket ban on the wearing of a Kirpan in prisons by anyone other than a Sikh prison chaplain.

“Since 2004 the Ministry of Justice has been aware that it is necessary to balance the need for security and safety within prisons, with the need to ensure that the Prison Service is not discriminating against baptised Sikhs by excluding them from working in prisons,” Judge Roper said in the judgment.

“We have seen an e-mail from Mrs McAllister the Head of Security Group of the Prison Service dated 7 December 2004 in which she suggests "in order to balance faith needs and security considerations, but with regard to the primacy of security, it seems appropriate to move away from a blanket ban on the wearing of kirpans", he added.

UK Kirpan Case
“The Kirpan is an article of faith which signifies compassion and reminds a Sikh to uphold the truth,” Jagdip Singh said in defense of his right to wear his Kirpan

The Employment Tribunal sitting in Birmingham had heard that a comprehensive consultation was carried out in 2008 by the National Offender Management Service (“NOMS”), an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice which is responsible for prison and probation matters. This included a risk analysis following which a proposal was made in January 2009, before Jagdip Singh commenced his employment s a prison officer, to approve in principle the wearing of the Kirpan by prison staff.

However, in Nov 2009, a new Director General of NOMS, Mr Wheatley, in response to an inquiry by Jagdip Singh’s MP about his dismissal, opposed the proposal.

“As at the date of this hearing, the Prison Service has not amended PSO 4550 to allow prison staff to carry the Kirpan,” noted Judge Roper.

“The Tribunal heard evidence of the risk analysis and the proposal to allow the wearing if the Kirpan by prison staff, yet the Tribunal chose to ignore the preponderance of evidence in favour of allowing the wearing of the Kirpan, “ said Mejindarpal Kaur, Legal Director of  UNITED SIKHS, who was approached for help by Jagdip Singh in 2009 following his dismissal for wearing his Kirpan.

“Judge Roper said in his judgment that an initiated Sikh is not protected from indirect discrimination under the Race Relation Act because he is not a separate and distinct class from non-initiated Sikhs. He then said that since the evidence suggests that only 10 per cent of UK Sikhs are initiated, the Kirpan ban does not discriminate the majority of Sikhs because its impact was small,” added Mejindarpal Kaur.

You may read a previous press release on UNITED SIKHS’ advocacy for Sikh articles of faith globally at http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-14-05-2011-00.html

Issued by:
Mejindarpal Kaur
Legal Director
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy
+44 (0)8701993328

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You may read a Panjabi translation of this PR here

Jagdip Singh, 26, who was initiated as an Amritdhari Sikh in 2008, was hired in July 2009 as a trainee Prison Custody Officer at HM Prison Dovegate in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, which is run by SERCO under contract from the Prison Service. Jagdip Singh was dismissed by SERCO on 28 July 2009 when he chose to wear the Kirpan when he was restricted from doing so by the security requirements of the Prison Service’s policy.

Jagdip Singh who was represented at the Employment Tribunal by Counsel Miss L Collignon and Mr Ravinder Singh Thukral from Thomas More chambers , who were acting on a probono basis, said, “Before my dismissal, when attending assessments and after appointment I entered the prison on at least three occasions and declared I was wearing a Kirpan when going through security, the metal detector machines and when body searches were conducted and encountered no issues.”

Protect Our Identity (POI) is an ongoing international campaign launched by UNITED SIKHS in August 2010 . It focuses on the need to protect the Sikh community's right to express its religious identity.  Initiatives under the POI campaign include:

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  • Equality in Employment
  • Right to Kakaars
  • Recognition of Sikhs as a Religion and Ethnicity in UK and US Census, and Raising Awareness of Sikhs and Sikhism to reduce acts of violence and xenophobia against Sikhs.

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