January 26, 2020 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
London: The Sikh Federation UK has issued their case in the Court of Appeal following the High Court’s dismissal of their legal challenge in December last year.
The Chair of the Federation, supported by 150 Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations, launched a legal challenge in 2019 against the government’s decision not to include the option of a tick-box for the Sikh ethnic group.
In December the case was dismissed by the High Court on the grounds it was premature because it should have been brought once the Census Order had been made, not before. The Sikh Federation UK argue that they brought the challenge early to avoid delaying the census. The judge’s dismissal of the case on timing leaves the way open for the Federation to challenge the Order after it is made, even if the Appeal fails.
The Sikh Federation UK represents members of the Sikh community in the UK and has been campaigning for and advocating the inclusion of a Sikh ethnicity tick-box in the UK Census for more than 15 years.
In 2011, the UK-wide Census recorded approximately 430,000 Sikhs based on a non-mandatory question about religion. However, not all people who would identify as ethnically Sikh identify as religiously Sikh. Additionally, four million people in the UK did not respond to the non-mandatory question, while a further 14 million specified ‘no religion’. The Sikh Federation’s own estimate based on engagement with their community is that there are approximately 700-800,000 ethnic Sikhs in the UK.
The Sikh Federation UK argue in their case that not having an accurate picture of the number of ethnic Sikhs in the UK would lead that group to be left out of government decisions on funding and provisions of public services, which are made based on the census data and used by tens of thousands of public bodies.
Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation UK said:
“It is unfortunate that we must continue this fight for our community. We have applied to the court for an expedited Appeal process. We have made all best efforts to avoid causing any delay to the Census, by bringing our challenge as early as possible, before the laying of the Census Order. However, even on an expedited timeline, we understand the Appeal could take another 6 months to resolve.
“We are confident that once the case has been finally decided on the substantive issues, our claim will succeed and the multiple failings in the process carried out by the ONS will become clear. While it is not our intention, we believe our case could encourage further legal challenges from other communities of other ethnicities affected by any unlawful process in the preparation of the Census”
Erin Alcock and Rosa Curling of Leigh Day, who represent the Sikh Federation said:
“Our clients consider they have no option but to continue their case to the Court of Appeal. It is crucial that government planning of public services takes Sikhs into account to ensure the particular needs of their community are met. Without a tick box, it is likely this community which faces discrimination already will continue to be excluded from much needed public services.”
The Sikh Federation continue to be represented in their Appeal by barristers Ayesha Christie and David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers.