Schools have been given the right to ban Muslim girls from wearing the full-face veil in lessons following a High Court ruling.
Judge Stephen Silber rejected a 12-year-old grammar school girl’s demand to wear the niqab—which covers the face apart from a slit for the eyes.
The schoolgirl, who was born in England to Pakistani parents, was given legal aid for her court battle after she was sent home by her headmistress when she turned up in the veil last September.
Judge Silber dismissed her claim that the ban was an infringement of her human rights, and pointed out that she had been offered a place at another school which would allow her to cover her face.
The judge accepted the Buckinghamshire school’s claims that the veil was a security risk as teachers could not instantly recognise visitors, that it could lead to peer pressure on other Muslim girls to wear the veil, that it made learning difficult by hiding the pupil’s expression from teachers, and that it was at odds with the school’s ethos of equality.
Later, Schools Minister Lord Adonis said: “We welcome this judgment. Decisions about uniforms and appropriate dress are rightly matters for individual schools to decide in consultation with parents.
“Our new uniform guidance, due out shortly, will take into account the decision made in this case.”
‘Schoolgirl X’—whose identity, along with the name of her school, is being kept secret by a strict court order—is unhappy with the ruling.
She is considering an appeal under Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights. She has been taught by a tutor at home since September, at public expense.
The taxpayer will be footing the bill for the case, estimated at £50,000 so far.
In a High Court hearing earlier this month Judge Silber heard that the girls’ grammar school had 120 Muslims out of 1,300 pupils, and that they were freeto wear headscarves, with around half doing so.
Schoolgirl X was the sole pupil who currently wanted to wear the veil.
Rejecting the girl’s demand for a judicial review of the veil ban, Judge Silber said: “I hope she and her parents can now give very serious consideration to the offer of a place at the other school. No reason has been put forward as to why it is not acceptable.”
Many Muslims supported the school’s stance, with the Muslim Council of Britain saying allowing girls to wear the hijab headscarf was “quite sufficient to meet Islamic requirements”.
The head of the school welcomed the judgment and said: “We want to focus now on supporting our student. We hope that she will return to school and resume her education as part of our community. This is a school where girls flourish, learning to become active and equal citizens.”
Labour’s leading Muslim peer reignited the row over the full-face veil on Tuesday by condemning its use as “defiance” of British values.
Lord Ahmed said that “the veil is now a mark of separation, segregation and defiance against mainstream British culture”.
The face veil is a “barrier to integration” which brings harm to Muslims because they invite “harassment” from non-Muslims, he added.
Muslims must respect British traditions just as British visitors are expected to respect the way of life in Islamic countries, Lord Ahmed said.
The attack on the veil from one of Labour’s most influential activists means the Government’s main Muslim supporters are now united in disapproval of those women who cover their faces in the name of their religion.
Lord Ahmed has until now defended the veil. Last year, during the row over a teaching assistant sacked for refusing to remove her veil, he warned that criticism of the veil had led to “a huge increase in the bullying of Muslim children”. But yesterday in a debate in the Gulf state of Qatar he blamed the harassment of Muslims on those who choose to wear it.
The 49-year-old peer said: “There is nothing in the Koran to say that the wearing of the niqab is desirable, let alone compulsory. It is purely cultural. It is an identity thing which has been misinterpreted.”
He added: “They were supposed to be worn so that women would not be harassed. But my argument is that women, and communities as a whole, are now being harassed because they are wearing them. They are physical barriers to integration.
“I don’t want a ban on them but Muslims need to have a debate among ourselves about whether we need them.”
Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “I think peoples’ attitudes are responsible for harming integration, not veils. People have the right to dress as they choose, provided it is not against the law.”