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Leigh Day successfully mediates dispute regarding Muslim pupil’s access to prayer facilities in school

Islamic Human Rights Commission contacts Leigh Day about religious discrimination matter

Islamic Human Rights Commission

19 September 2012

Alison Millar and her assistant solicitor, Charlotte Skouby, have recently been successful in resolving a dispute between the family of a young Muslim girl Y and the Governing Body of her school regarding her access to prayer facilities on the school premises.  The matter was referred to them by the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Y has been brought up a Muslim by her parents, who are practising Muslims.  According to the family’s Muslim faith, once she turned nine years old in December 2011, Y was viewed as having attained puberty for religious purposes and consequently required to perform the obligatory religious duties of Islam.  These include offering prayers at five set times of day.

Y’s school refused her parents request for facilities to be provided for her to do her daily prayers, on the basis that as an “inclusive secular school”, they did not permit activities on the school premises that were aimed at one religion. The decision not to provide her with facilities for praying at school effectively created a situation where attending the School meant for Y compromising on her religious obligation.  The resulting conflict had unsettled Y, who was aware of the importance of prayer in her Islamic faith, and was indeed a source of great stress to all her family.

An application for Judicial Review was prepared, challenging the Governing Body’s prayer policy on the basis that:

a.    The policy unlawfully indirectly discriminated against Y on religious grounds contrary to statutory provisions in the Equality Act 2010;
b.    The Governing Body has failed to have due regard to the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010;
c.    The policy violated Y’s right to manifest her religion under Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights

In the event, Alison and Charlotte were able to facilitate a mediation meeting between Y’s parents and representatives for the Governing Body, avoiding the time and expense of formal legal proceedings. The parties have been able to come to an agreement about accommodating Y’s daily prayers and her parents report that the new arrangements that have been put in place by the school are running smoothly.

Alison Millar said:
“We were very concerned that at a community school in an area which serves a large number of people of the Muslim faith, our client was not allowed to manifest her religion. The school argued that our client, a nine year old girl, would be able to go home to pray, but this was putting her at a significant disadvantage compared to her peers who are not Muslim. Moreover, the school had initially been able to accommodate her request for prayer facilities, so the adjustment was reasonable. We are very pleased to have resolved this dispute so our client does not have to choose between her education and religious observance.”

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