Rastafarians are not an ethnic group, judges rule

Saturday 30 January 1993 00:02

RASTAFARIANS do not constitute a separate ethnic group for the purposes of the Race Relations Act, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

The Campaign for Racial Equality had backed an appeal by Trevor Dawkins against the Department of the Environment.

In 1988, he was refused a van driver's job with Crown Suppliers (PSA) after he said in an interview that he would not cut off his dreadlocks. He took his case to an industrial tribunal which, after hearing expert evidence, accepted that Rastafarians constituted an ethnic group. It ruled he was refused the job on racial grounds and had been discriminated against under the Act. An employment appeal tribunal later reversed that decision.

Lord Meston, for the department, told three appeal judges that Rastafarians were no more than a relatively short-lived 'sect, cult or movement' with 'quasi-political and religious tenets'.

Lord Justice Neill, sitting with Lord Justice Beldam and Sir John Megaw, said Rastafarians did have a strong cultural tradition including distinctive music, reggae, and dreadlocks hairstyle.

But the crucial question was whether they had established a separate ethnic identity - whether they stood apart by reason of their history from other Jamaicans. Dismissing the appeal, he said Rastafarians had a shared history which 'goes back only 60 years or so'.

Mr Dawkins, 30, a bus driver from south-east London, later said he was disappointed with the decision. Chris Boothman, CRE legal director, said it would be considering an appeal to the House of Lords because of the wide implications of the case.

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