R (Playfoot) (A Child) v Millais School Governing Body

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
Judgment Date16 Jul 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] EWHC 1698 (Admin)
Docket NumberCase No:CO/9235/2006

[2007] EWHC 1698 (Admin)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

ADMINISTRATIVE COURT

Before:

Michael Supperstone Q.c.

(Sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge)

Case No:CO/9235/2006

The Queen on the Application of Lydia Playfoot (a Minor) (by her father and litigation friend Philip Playfoot)
Claimant
and
Governing Body of Millais School
Defendant

PAUL DIAMOND (Instructed by Direct Access) for the Claimant

JONATHAN AUBURN (Instructed by Legal Services, West Sussex

C.C.) for the Defendant

Judgement

The Deputy Judge:

Introduction

1

The Claimant, Lydia Playfoot, is now aged 16 and was until very recently a pupil at Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex ("the School"). She left the School at the end of the Summer Term after the completion of her GCSE examinations. Her departure from the School does not affect the outcome of these proceedings.

2

The Claimant, who brings this claim fay her father and litigation friend, seeks judicial review of the decision of the Defendant, the Governors of the School, not to permit her to wear a "purity" ring as a symbol of her commitment to celibacy before marriage. She contends that this decision unlawfully interferes with her right to manifest her religion or beliefs, contrary to Article 9(1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") and unlawfully discriminates against her in breach of Article 14 of the Convention.

3

On 8 May 2007 Goldring J. refused permission to apply for judicial review on the papers. He ordered that if the application be renewed it should immediately be followed by the substantive hearing in the event of it succeeding. At the outset of the hearing before me I indicated that I would hear full argument from the parties and thereafter give my decision on both the renewed application for permission and the substantive application, if I granted permission. I also made an order under Section 39 of the Children & Young Persons Act 1933 preventing the disclosure of, amongst other things, the name of any child or young person concerned with these proceedings other than the Claimant herself.

Factual Background

4

The School is a maintained non-denominational girls secondary school which admits pupils from age 11 to 16. The Claimant started at the School in Year 7. Her two older sisters attended the School ahead of her. She also has a younger sister at the School. At the time of the hearing of this application the Claimant was in Year 11, her final year.

5

The School has a uniform policy which provides in respect of jewellery that:

"This is not part of school uniform and MUST NOT BE WORN.

Girls with pierced ears may wear one pair of plain ear "studs"—which must be removed for P.E.

Other studs including nose and tongue studs are not permitted."

The School has had the same dress code since the early 1990's.

6

The Claimant says that she commenced wearing the Silver Ring Thing purity ring ("SRTpr") at school in June 2004 and that "she wore it quite happily for a year until the summer 2005. It was then that [she] was told to cease wearing the SRTpr on grounds that it was not in conformity with school uniform policy". (Para 13 of first Witness Statement). Mr Nettley, Head Teacher at the School, says that he would be "surprised if this were the case (i.e. that staff had seen her with a ring for a year and permitted this) as [he knows] staff routinely challenge pupils wearing jewellery, and ask them to remove it". (Para 21 of first Witness Statement; and see paras 3–6 of his second Witness Statement).

7

On 13 June 2005 Mr Playfoot, the Claimant's father, wrote to Mr Nettley raising two issues: first, his concerns as to the content of the sex education curriculum in PHSE for girls at the end of Year 9 or beginning of Year 10; and second, that Lydia had not been allowed to wear a ring in school. He described the ring as "demonstrating her personal commitment to sexual abstinence prior to marriage which [he believed] could help promote some healthy discussion and create positive peer pressure". Mr Playfoot wrote further to Mr Nettley on 5 July 2005 claiming that the refusal to allow Lydia to wear a ring showing her commitment to abstinence "as an expression of her personal faith" would amount to discrimination (if Muslim girls are allowed to wear head coverings) and in addition be contrary to Article 9 of the Convention. By letter date 13 July 2005 Mr Nettley informed Mr Playfoot that the issue of Lydia's ring had been raised at a full Governors' Meeting and that the Governors had endorsed the view that for her to wear the ring would be in breach of school rules.

8

On 20 October 2005 Mr and Mrs Playfoot attended a meeting with two Governors, Mrs Barnes (Chair of Governors) and Mrs Coate and, also, Miss Quint, Head of PHSE. The meeting addressed the issues of sex education and the ring. Mr Playfoot expressed his view that the ring was part of the Claimant's faith and not decorative. The Governors advised that the ring was representative of a moral stance and not a necessary symbol of Christian faith.

9

On 21 October 2005 Mr Playfoot wrote to Mrs Barnes expressing his disappointment that the Governors feel they cannot give "positive support to girls who want to take this stand" by wearing a ring as a sign of commitment to sexual abstinence. He said that he was looking at the legality of the School's position. On 10 November 2005 Mrs Barnes replied setting out the School's position. Mr Playfoot wrote further to Mrs Barnes on 21 November 2005 and on 5 December 2005 he took up the issue of the ring with the local education authority. Mr David Sword, Head of School Improvement Support for West Sussex County Council, replied to that letter on 13 January 2006.

10

During January and February 2006 there was further correspondence between Mr Playfoot, the Governors and the LEA. On 10 February 2006 Mrs Barnes wrote to Mr and Mrs Playfoot and referred to the meeting they had on 20 October 2005 when it had been explained to them that "the Governors had earlier considered the wearing of wristbands and had decided that these could be attached to bags, as could other keyrings etc. as a visible sign of any causes that a pupil was supporting".

11

During the summer term 2006 Lydia began to wear her ring again in school. Whilst in the past she had complied with requests to remove the ring, in May 2006 she refused. The matter was referred to Mrs Mitchell, Assistant Head Teacher, who decided that Lydia should receive a disciplinary sanction for refusal to follow the instructions of staff and persistent defiance of school rules. Her punishment was to be taught separately from her class for an afternoon (similar to a detention, but within the school day), a sanction used for a range of offences within the School.

12

Following this incident the Claimant wrote to Mrs Mitchell on 12 May 2006 explaining why she wished to wear her purity ring. This letter was copied to the Chair of Governors, other teachers and Mr Nettley. Lydia stated that she is a committed Christian with a genuine belief that she should remain sexually abstinent before marriage, and that the ring is a sign of this belief.

13

On 8 October 2006 the Claimant wrote to Mrs Barnes (copies to Mr Nettley and the Director of Legal Department, West Sussex County Council) stating, "As advised by my barrister, I am writing to say that I intend to commence legal proceedings in my own name unless I receive categorical assurances that I can wear my purity ring (including other girls who wish to wear a purity ring) within the next 7 days. I do not wish to delay any longer as I have suffered since 2004".

14

As a result of this threat of legal action Mrs Barnes wrote to Mr & Mrs Playfoot on 16 October 2006 stating that a meeting of the Governing Body would be convened to discuss this issue and to consider all of the representations made by Mr & Mrs Playfoot and the Claimant.

15

On 6 November 2006 the Claimant filed her claim for judicial review. (The seal of the Administrative Court Office on the Claim Form is dated 3 October 2006.)

16

By letter dated 28 November 2006 Mrs Barnes informed Mr Playfoot and the Claimant that:

"Following confirmation in your letters of 18 and 23 October that you had nothing further to submit, nor did you wish to address the Governors directly, the full Governing Body met on two occasions, on 30 October and 20 November, to review and discuss the issues fully and make a considered, final decision.

The Governing Body has decided not to grant an exemption to the uniform policy for Lydia in this matter. "

The letter then identified the matters that were considered by the Governors in their decision-making process.

Article 9 of the Convention

17

Article 9 provides, so far as relevant to this case:

"Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society …. for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

Article 9 protects both the right to hold a belief, which is absolute, and a right to manifest a belief, which is qualified (see R (Williamson) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment [2005] 2 AC 246 at para 16, (Lord Nicholls)).

18

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    ...a manifestation of that belief. 62 Our attention was drawn to the decision in R (Playfoot) v Governing Body of Millais School [2007] EWHC 1698 (Admin); [2007] HRLR 34, in which Mr Michael Supperstone QC (then sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court) applied the principles in Williamso......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Accommodating Religious Beliefs: Harm, Clothing or Symbols, and Refusals to Serve Others
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