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NO APPEAL FOR MUSLIM PUPIL WHO CLAIMED CONSTRUCTIVE EXCLUSION OVER UNIFORM

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A 15-year-old Muslim girl who claimed she was 'constructively excluded' from a school which refused to let her wear...
A 15-year-old Muslim girl who claimed she was 'constructively excluded' from a school which refused to let her wear traditional religious dress has had her case thrown out by a High Court judge.

Mr Justice Bennett rejected claims that Shabina Begum had been excluded from Denbigh High School, Luton, also dismissing arguments that the school's stance amounted to a violation of her human rights.

And, despite her lawyers claims that she is in a 'worse position' than a pupil expelled for violence or involvement in drugs, the judge refused Shabina permission to challenge his decision in the Court of Appeal.

The teenager has been out of school since September 2002, when she was sent home after arriving for classes at Denbigh High School, Luton, in the

jilbab, a long, flowing gown covering all her body except hands and face.

Denbigh, a 1,000-pupil comprehensive where almost 80% of pupils are Muslim, has always maintained it has a flexible school uniform policy which takes into account all faiths and cultures and had in no way discriminated against Shabina, of Dalow Road, Luton.

And Mr Justice Bennett dismissed claims that the school's refusal to let her wear the jilbab breached her right to education and freedom of religion enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Justice Bennett described as 'unanswerable' Denbigh High School's plea that Shabina had never been excluded and could have returned to class at any time if she had agreed to abide by the school's uniform policy.

'In my judgement, she has not succeeded in showing that she was excluded and thus her claim falls to be dismissed,' he told the court.

Shabina had 'flatly refused' to wear the school uniform for Muslim pupils who are allowed to wear the less formal Shalwar Kameeze but not the jilbab which covers the whole body, save face and hands.

From the school's point of view, Shabina had herself created a 'very awkward situation' by 'abruptly' changing her beliefs and demanding the right to wear the jilbab, said the judge.

The school had made 'every effort to persuade her to return' to class, but Shabina refused 'because she felt compelled by her religious beliefs'.

And the judge observed: 'It was at all times open to her to change her mind, dress in the school uniform and return to school.'

He said it was 'very unrealistic and artificial' to say that Shabina's right to education had been denied. She had only applied for transfer to one other school and had not followed through the appeal process after being denied a place because of over-subscription.

Shabina's solicitor, Yvonne Spencer, told the judge his decision had left the teenager 'in legal limbo'. She argued there was 'a great deal of legal ambiguity' over a school's right to deny access to pupils who refuse to wear the school uniform.

She questioned whether a multi-faith, multi-ethnic, school like Denbigh High had 'any power' to prevent pupils exercising their genuine religious beliefs in chosing for themselves what they will and will not wear.

Shabina, said Miss Spencer, still remains on the school's roll and it had continued to receive funding for her from the local education authority.

The teenager, she argued, was now in a 'worse position' than a pupil excluded for violence or involvement in drugs where efforts would be made to find another placement at an alternative school, she argued.

'She's in a worse position simply because she wants to uphold genuine and justifiable religious beliefs,' she told the judge.

Miss Spencer added that going to a private school where pupils would be allowed to wear the jilbab was not an option for Shabina whose family is entirely dependent on state benefits.

Mr Justice Bennett refused permission to appeal against his decision, but Shabina's lawyers may still petition the Court of Appeal directly for an appeal hearing.

Shabina was legally aided and the school sought no order for legal costs against her.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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