The High Court in London on Wednesday concluded hearing a British Sikh group’s case for a separate Sikh ethnicity tick box in the next UK census in 2021.
Judge Beverley Lang reserved her judgment which will be given at a later date after the two-day hearing considered the submissions presented by the Sikh Federation (UK) and the counter-arguments of the UK Cabinet Office.
The Sikh Federation UK, represented by the law firm Leigh Day at the Royal Court’s of Justice, believes it would be “unlawful” for the Cabinet Office to lay before Parliament a Census Order based on the proposals set out by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) in its December 2018 White Paper, which had rejected the need for a separate tick box.
“There is overwhelming public, Sikh community and cross-party support. We have been forced to go to the High Court on #GuruNanak500 to tackle discrimination,” Sikh Federation UK said in a Twitter statement, in reference to the proceedings coinciding with the 550th Guru Nanak birth anniversary celebrations on Tuesday.
Sikhs are recognised as a separate religion in the optional religious question introduced in the 2001 Census. The UK’s Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 placed an obligatory duty on the country’s public authorities to monitor and positively promote race equality in the provision of public services.
According to Sikh Federation UK, which claims the backing of hundreds of UK gurdwaras, public bodies tend to only refer to the ethnic groups used in the census and demand a separate Sikh ethnic tick box to ensure Sikhs have fair access to all public services.
The issue has triggered a war of words between different British Sikh groups, with the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), led by Indian-origin peer Lord Indrajit Singh, highlighting that the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak should be reflective of his principles of one common humanity, away from “artificial labels” like caste, denomination, status and ethnicity.
“Sikhs are adequately recorded in the Census under religion, and the ONS made the right decision in rejecting the Sikh Federation UK’s calls for a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box. We are deeply saddened that they have asked Sikhs to protest outside the High Court at a time when we are marking Guru Nanak’s life and legacy,” said a spokesperson for the NSO.
Meanwhile, the ONS, which conducted a consultation ahead of the next UK census, stressed that as the religion question will have a specific Sikh tick box response option, everyone who wishes to identify as Sikh in response to the ethnicity question will be able to do so through a write-in option in the next 10-year census.
“We do not comment on ongoing litigation. However, no group will be missed out in the digital-first 2021 Census,” the ONS said.