R (Begum) v Governors of Denbigh High School

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
JudgeMr Justice Bennett,MR JUSTICE BENNETT
Judgment Date15 June 2004
Neutral Citation[2004] EWHC 1389 (Admin)
Docket NumberCase No: CO/748/2004

[2004] EWHC 1389 (Admin)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

ADMINISTRATIVE COURT

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand,

London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

The Honourable Mr Justice Bennett

Case No: CO/748/2004

Between:
The Queen On The Application Of Shabina Begum (through Her Litigation Friend Mr Sherwas Rahman)
Claimant
and
The Headteacher And Governors Of Denbigh High School
Defendant

Yvonne Spencer, solicitor advocate, (Children's Legal Centre) for the Claimant

Simon Birks (instructed by R.J. Stevens, Head of Legal Services, Luton Borough Council) for the Defendant

Mr Justice Bennett
1

Shabina Begum (the "Claimant") was born on 19 September 1988 and is therefore now 15 years old, and is a Muslim. In September 2000, when she was 12 years old, she started her secondary education at Denbigh High School, Luton in Bedfordshire. The school uniform for Muslim female pupils is the Shalwar Kameeze if they do not wish to wear the traditional uniform. The Claimant happily wore her Shalwar Kameeze to, from and in school until September 2002.

2

On 3 September 2002 the Claimant together with her brother, Shuweb Rahman, who subsequently became her litigation friend in judicial review proceedings, went to the school and asked to speak to the Headteacher, Mrs Yasmin Bevan. She was not available. They saw Stuart Moore, the Assistant Headteacher. Mr Rahman described the meeting in paragraph 4 of his statement of 12 November 2003 in this way:-

"Mr Moore informed us that Shabina could not enter the school unless she wore the standard school uniform. Shabina could not agree to this as it contradicted her religious beliefs."

The Claimant described it (and the subsequent history) in her statement of the same date in this way:-

"Since yearly (sic) September 2002 Mr Moore expelled me from coming into the school premises without the school uniform."

3

Mr Moore has described the meeting in his statement of 25 March 2004 as follows:-

"4. In the morning of 3 September 2002 I had referred to me, in place of the Headteacher, a matter relating to a pupil wanting to attend school wearing a long skirt. I have since been told that the pupil wanted to wear a jilbab. At the time I believed that she wanted to wear a long skirt.

5. I met the pupil, and the two young men who accompanied her. The men claimed to be her brother and a friend. They were very forceful in their approach to me, and talked of human rights and legal proceedings. I am a teacher and do not pretend to know about details of the law. So far as I was aware schools are entitled to insist upon their pupils wearing school uniform provided that it has been agreed by the governing body and taken into account issues regarding discrimination. I knew that Denbigh High School's uniform had been designed some years ago, and that the design had been kept under regular review. As I have outlined above the requirements of the school uniform policy are well publicised and are made known to parents and prospective pupils well before they enrol in the school. In addition I knew that the Claimant had attended the school for two years wearing school uniform having chosen to attend Denbigh High School as she lives outside our catchment area. I was therefore somewhat taken aback to receive, on the first day of the school year, a demand that a pupil be allowed to wear clothing which was not part of the school uniform particularly as I was not aware of the pupil ever raising this issue before. I thought the manner in which the demand was made was unreasonable as it verged on the threatening. I also thought that the timing was unreasonable in that the pupil arrived at school on the first day of term demanding to wear non-uniform clothing. On behalf of the Headteacher I decided that she had to wear, along with all the other pupils, the correct school uniform. I told her to go home and change and return wearing correct school uniform. This is the normal procedure for cases where children arrive at school in incorrect uniform. To date, with the exception of this one incident, pupils have always complied with this and returned straight to school in correct uniform.

6. The two men said they were not prepared to compromise over this issue and the Claimant was encouraged by them to leave the school, which she did. I immediately reported the matter to Mrs. Bevan, the Headteacher who wrote to the Claimant's family. A copy of that letter is at page D1 of the Claimant's bundle. It reflects what I said to the Claimant and her representatives.

7. At no time did I say or have I ever said that the Claimant could not enter the school. I did tell her to return to school wearing correct school uniform. I certainly never expelled or had the authority to expel the Claimant. No pupil would ever be excluded from Denbigh High School without discussion having taken place with the Headteacher first. I have at all times throughout encouraged her to return to school wearing school uniform."

4

Thereafter the positions of the Claimant and the Defendant, despite some attempted compromises, were that the Claimant would not come to school unless she could wear the jilbab and that the Defendant wished the Claimant to return to school provided she wore the appropriate school uniform i.e. the Shalwar Kameeze.

5

On 13 February 2004 the Claimant (by her brother as litigation friend) began judicial review proceedings against the Defendant and the Luton Borough Council ("LBC") for declarations, mandatory orders and damages. On 5 March the Defendant and LBC filed an Acknowledgment of Service resisting the claim.

6

On 23 February Newman J. granted permission as against the Defendant but refused it as against LBC stating:-

"I refuse leave to argue that she has been denied education by the second defendant, the Luton Borough Council, for the reasons given by it, on various occasions, in the course of correspondence."

7

On 27 February the Claimant gave notice of renewal of the claim for permission to apply for judicial review against LBC. That application was listed for hearing on 27 May immediately before the substantive hearing against the Defendant. Having heard Ms Spencer, solicitor advocate for the Claimant, and Mr Birks, of counsel, for LBC, I refused permission. I indicated I would give my reasons in the judgement to be handed down [see paragraphs 106 and 107 hereafter]. I then proceeded to hear submissions vis-à-vis the Defendant and reserved judgement.

Facts

8

I set out the facts as I find them to be, in so far as I have not related them. I shall have to travel over rather a large area but I shall endeavour to be concise.

9

On 3 September 2002, Mrs Bevan wrote to the Claimant's brother and mother as follows:-

"You will be aware that a young man came into school today, with your daughter, a pupil in Year 9. She was dressed in a long skirt, which is not part of our school uniform.

The young man claimed to be your representative and demanded that we allow your daughter to wear the skirt to school. He claimed that this was a religious requirement and began quoting human rights at the Assistant Headteacher who eventually agreed to see him. He was told that our school uniform had been agreed with the governing body and that we allowed girls to wear shalwar kameeze or trousers. This is carefully explained to families when pupils start at the school. The young man did not accept this and took your daughter away saying that he was not prepared to compromise on this issue and that he would return with a letter from you giving him permission to act as the girl's legal guardian.

I have to say that the staff who dealt with your representative were not impressed with his manner which appeared unreasonable and threatening. I have spoken to Luton Borough Council's legal department about this matter. I need to inform you that they support our view that our uniform rules are more than reasonable in taking into account cultural and religious concerns.

I not that Shabina did not attend school today because she was removed by your representative. Shabina is required to attend school, dressed in the correct uniform according to school policy and we will be referring this matter to the Educational Welfare Service should she fail to do so.

If you have any further concerns about this matter, you may raise them with Mr Kilby, Chair of Governors who can be contacted through the school. Given the unfortunate nature of your representative's manner, any further contact with the school, until we can be assured of a more reasonable approach, should be made by telephone. "

10

The school was anxious to establish contact with the Claimant's guardian. On 4 September 2002 a member of the Support Team telephoned her house who spoke to a male member of the family who said the Claimant had seen her solicitor and was going to sue the school.

11

On 5 September Mr Moore telephoned and spoke to the Claimant's brother to ask why the Claimant was not in school. Mr Moore was told that he (the brother) was not prepared to let her attend school unless she was allowed to wear a long skirt.

12

On 11 September a letter concerning non-attendance was sent to the family (DHS 6). On 27 September a referral was made by the school to the Education Welfare Service ("EWS") who visited the family on 23 October.

13

On 22 October 2002 Messrs Neves, solicitors of Luton, wrote to Mrs Bevan, the school Governors and LBC to the effect that the Claimant had been "excluded/suspended" from school:-

"because she refused to remove her Muslim dress compromising of a head scarf and a long over garment. The dress she, as a practising Muslim, must wear. Shabina follows the opinion that it is an absolute obligation on her to wear this dress and is not...

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