Sikhs at risk of being ‘unlawfully’ banned from UK courts

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London, Feb 12

Practicing Sikhs in the UK face the risk of being unlawfully banned from entering courthouses or tribunals in England and Wales under present guidelines over kirpan (ceremonial dagger).

Sikh lawyer Jaskeerat Singh Gulshan challenged the security policy of the courts and tribunals concerning kirpans in a case which was heard this week by the lord chief justice and the vice-president of the court of appeal, The Guardian reported.

Practising, or Amritdhari Sikhs, are required to carry Kirpan at all times along with other articles of faith.

Gulshan launched a legal battle after he felt humiliated at Ealing Magistrates' Court where he was barred from entering till he removed his kirpan in 2021.

He was carrying a Kirpan with an overall length of eight inches, and the length of the blade was four inches, which was within the permissible limit, according to him.

As per the prevailing guidelines, Sikhs are allowed to bring a kirpan into a court or tribunal building if the overall length is no more than six inches and the blade is no more than five inches in length, the report stated.

But according to Gulshan, these measurements are physically impossible as a Kirpan with four inches of blade cannot have two inches for the handle and sheath.

"In light of the HMCTS (HM Courts and Tribunals Service) guidance as it currently stands, it is apparent that a Sikh lawyer ... cannot expect to practice law because he has effectively been banned from appearing in court in violation of his right to carry a kirpan as protected by UK legislation," Gulshan's barrister, Parminder Saini, told the lord chief justice and the vice-president of the court of appeal, The Guardian report said.

"Sikhs are unique in being a protected religion as well as a race. As a person of Sikh ethnicity, this systemic discriminatory treatment therefore occurs on both religious and ethnic grounds, and equates to systematic discrimination against Sikhs," Saini added.

In its argument, the government said that the security policy came into force after consulting the Sikh community.

In reply to this, Saini said the government spoke with the smaller Supreme Sikh Council and not the Sikh Council UK, which is the community's largest platform in the country, the report said.

Sukhjeevan Singh from the Sikh Council UK, said in his submission to the court that "to design and manufacture such a kirpan would be a mockery of our sacred article of faith".

Saini said the court's guidance is unlawful because it seeks to overrule primary legislation -- it is not an offence to carry an article with a blade in a public place if a person has the article with him for religious reasons.

To this, the government argued that permission to appeal should be refused because the policy falls under the legitimate aim of protecting the security of others. Saini's objections, they said, are "a misreading of primary legislation".

--IANS

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