Muslim girl wins appeal over school clothing

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The Independent Online

A Muslim girl today won her battle to wear traditional "head-to-toe" dress in the classroom after the Court of Appeal ruled her school had acted unlawfully in barring her.

A Muslim girl today won her battle to wear traditional "head-to-toe" dress in the classroom after the Court of Appeal ruled her school had acted unlawfully in barring her.

Shabina Begum, 15, accused the head teachers and governors of Denbigh High School, Luton, Beds, of denying her the "right to education and to manifest her religious beliefs".

Lord Justice Brooke, vice president of the civil division of the Court of Appeal, called on the Department of Education to give schools more guidance on how to comply with their obligations under the Human Rights Act.

He ruled that that her school had:

* Unlawfully excluded her;

* Unlawfully denied her the right to manifest her religion;

* Unlawfully denied her access to suitable and appropriate education.

She was represented at the appeal court by Cherie Booth QC, who told the judges at a hearing last December that the case involved "fundamental issues" about the nature and interpretation of Miss Begum's rights to education and freedom to practise her religion.

Last June, High Court judge Mr Justice Bennett dismissed the girl's application for judicial review, ruling she had failed to show that the "highly successful" 1,000-pupil school, where 79 per cent of the students are Muslim, had excluded her or breached her human rights.

Miss Booth said Mr Justice Bennett was saying that the school, which sent her home after she refused to wear authorised school uniform, was entitled to "pick and choose" which religious beliefs it accepted.

The appeal has important implications for multi-faith schools across the country.

Miss Begum, whose father and mother are both dead, had worn the shalwar kameez (trousers and tunic) from when she entered the school at the age of 12 until September 2002, when she and her brother, Shuweb Rahman, informed assistant headteacher Stuart Moore that she would wear it no longer.