The case of the Muslim schoolgirl who won the right to wear a head-to-toe dress in class returns to the legal spotlight as part of a test case appeal in the House of Lords.
In March last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that Shabina Begum was unlawfully excluded from Denbigh High School in Luton, Beds, when she was sent home to change out of her traditional jilbab into acceptable school uniform.
Now, five Law Lords are being asked to review the human rights implications of Shabina’s case, along with a dispute over whether another teenager, Abdul Hakim Ali, is entitled to damages for being excluded from Lord Grey School in Bletchley, Bucks, after he was suspected of involvement in a classroom fire.
Shabina, 17 – represented by Cherie Booth QC – took her school’s headteacher and governors to court for denying her the "right to education and to manifest her religious beliefs" under the Human Rights Act.
She had worn the shalwar kameez (trousers and tunic) from the time she entered the school at the age of 12 until September 2002, when she and her brother, Shuweb Rahman, informed assistant head teacher Stuart Moore that she would wear it no longer because it was against the tenets of her religion. She adopted the jilbab instead.
Appeal judge Lord Justice Brooke said children at Denbigh school spoke 40 different languages and were from 21 different ethnic groups.
The award-winning school became successful under the headship of Yasmin Bevan, who was born into a Bengali Muslim family and grew up in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh before coming to Britain.
Ms Bevan wanted her school to provide an environment in which the children could learn and live together in harmony and believed that a school uniform promoted a sense of community identity.
Girls could wear a skirt, trousers or a shalwar kameez and were permitted to wear headscarves which complied with school uniform requirements. But Miss Begum believed that, for a Muslim woman who has started to menstruate, the kameez did not comply with the strict requirements of her religion.
The judge ruled that "her freedom to manifest her religion or belief in public was being limited, and as a matter of Convention (the European Convention on Human Rights) law it would be for the school, as an emanation of the state, to justify the limitation on her freedom created by the school’s uniform code and by the way in which it was enforced".