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Sikhs lose UK High Court battle to be included as ethnic group in census

Sikh Federation UK has said it will seek permission to appeal against the order and will continue its campaign for a separate Sikh ethnicity tick box in the next census

Press Trust of India  |  London 

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The High Court in London has dismissed a judicial review application brought by a British Sikh group for a separate Sikh ethnicity tick box in the next UK census in 2021.

Justice Beverley Lang ruled that the application was dismissed on the ground that it is "premature", and in breach of parliamentary privilege and the constitutional convention of the separation of powers.

She had reserved her judgment after a two-day hearing in November during which she considered the submissions presented by Sikh Federation (UK) and counter arguments of the UK Cabinet Office.

Sikh Federation UK, represented by the law firm Leigh Day at the Royal Court's of Justice, had claimed that it would be unlawful for the Cabinet Office to lay before Parliament a Census Order based on the proposals set out by the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) in its December 2018 White Paper, which had rejected the need for a separate tick box.

In her judgment handed down last week, Judge Lang noted that the case was not an exceptional one which justifies any departure from the general rule.

"In my judgment, the court should not determine the claimant's claim as it is plainly premature. A ministerial decision has not yet been made; no draft Order in Council has been published or approved by Parliament; and the Queen in Council has not made an Order under the 1920 Act," the ruling states.

Sikh Federation UK has said it will seek permission to appeal against the order and will continue its campaign for a separate Sikh ethnicity tick box in the next census.

Our client believes that it is of great importance that ethnic Sikhs are given the opportunity to mark their ethnicity on the census in 2021 so that an accurate picture of ethnic Sikhs in the UK can be established to inform government decisions and meet community needs. We will now be working with them on their application to appeal, said Leigh Day's Rosa Curling, the group's solicitor.

Sikhs are recognised as a separate religion in the optional religious question introduced in the 2001 Census.

The UK's Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 placed an obligatory duty on the country's public authorities to monitor and positively promote race equality in the provision of public services.

According to Sikh Federation UK, which claims the backing of hundreds of UK Gurdwaras, public bodies tend to only reference the ethnic groups used in the census and demand a separate Sikh ethnic tick box to ensure Sikhs have fair access to all public services.

The issue has triggered a war of words between different British Sikh groups, with the Network of Sikh Organisations saying that: Sikhs are adequately recorded in the Census under religion, and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) made the right decision in rejecting the Sikh Federation UK's calls for a Sikh 'ethnic' tick box.

In the High Court ruling dated December 12, Judge Lang notes that the UK Parliament will have the benefit of seeing the reasons for the ONS proposal not to include a Sikh tick box response in answer to the ethnic group sub-topic question as set out in the White Paper, which was presented to Parliament in December 2018.

The matter can then be debated by Parliament on the merits, if it considers it appropriate to do so, she said.

Meanwhile, the ONS, which conducted a consultation ahead of the next UK census, stresses that as the religion question will have a specific Sikh tick box response option, everyone who wishes to identify as Sikh in response to the ethnicity question will be able to do so through a write-in option in the next 10-year census.

No group will be missed out in the digital-first 2021 Census, the ONS said.

First Published: Tue, December 17 2019. 19:10 IST
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