Law Report: Rastafarians not an ethnic group: Dawkins v Crown Suppliers (PSA) Ltd (now Department of the Environment) - Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Neill, Lord Justice Beldam and Sir John Megaw), 29 January 1993

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Rastafarians did not form a separate ethnic group for the purposes of the Race Relations Act 1976, and a Rastafarian who was denied a job as a van driver because he wore his hair long and refused to cut it had not been the victim of racial discrimination as defined in the Act.

The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the applicant, Trevor Dawkins, against the majority decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal ((1991) ICR 583), who reversed the majority decision of an industrial tribunal that the applicant had been discriminated against, contrary to the 1976 Act.

Alper Riza QC and John Whitmore (Karim) for the applicant; Lord Meston (Treasury Solicitor) for the Department of the Environment.

LORD JUSTICE NEILL said that in June 1988 the applicant had responded to an advertisement by the PSA (which has since become part of the Department of the Environment) seeking experienced drivers. The applicant responded and attended an interview wearing a hat beneath which he had long hair in dreadlocks. He was told the PSA expected their drivers to have short hair. The applicant said he was not willing to cut his hair.

He later complained that he had been subjected to both direct and indirect racial discrimination, contrary to the 1976 Act, in that he was refused employment by reason of his membership of a particular racial group, namely the Rastafarians.

It was argued that Rastafarians constituted a group of persons defined by reference to their ethnic origins. There was no definition of 'ethnic origins' in the Act but authoritative guidance had been given by the House of Lords in Mandla (Sewa Singh) v Dowell Lee (1983) 2 AC 548, a case about Sikhs.

It was clear that Rastafarians had certain identifiable characteristics. They had a strong cultural tradition, which included a distinctive form of music known as reggae, and adopted a distinctive form of hair style by wearing dreadlocks. They had other shared characteristics too; but the crucial question was whether they had established some separate identity by reference to their ethnic origin.

In speaking about them in this context, his Lordship referred to a core group since not all Rastafar ians, considered separately, might fulfil all the necessary conditions. It was at this stage that one had to take account of both the racial flavour of the word 'ethnic' and the requirement, stated by Lord Fraser in Mandla, of a long shared history.

If Rastafarians were compared with the Jamaican community in England or indeed with the rest of the Afro-Caribbean community in this country, there was nothing to set them apart as a separate ethnic group. They were a separate group, but not one defined by reference to their ethnic origins.

The question was whether they had a separate identity. Did they stand apart from other Jamaicans by reason of their history? It was not enough for Rastafarians now to look back at a past when their ancestors, in common with other peoples in the Caribbean, were taken there from Africa. They were not a separate group then. The shared history of Rastafarians did not go back for more than about 60 years.

In the end, the court was concerned with the words of the 1976 Act. Following Mandla, it was not possible to say that Rastafarians were a separate racial group.


Paul Magrath, Barrister