law pages of Bournemouth and Poole College.
On the first day of a new academic year Ms Begum wore a long shapeless black, coat-like garment known as a jilbab because it concealed the contours of the female body which she thought was required by her religion. However, it was against the school uniform rules and she knew it. The general consensus of opinion among the vast majority of Muslim scholars is that a jilbab is not necessary for the reasons she claimed.
The House of Lords gave the case short shrift and gave Shabina Begum’s argument a real mauling. There is now precious little chance that Strasbourg will hear this story. Their Lordships felt that the school had not acted in a way that is incompatible with a Convention right. In any event Strasbourg jurisprudence permits the restricting of religious dress. The House of Lords speeches are full of phrases condemning Ms Begum words such as “…[her] unwillingness … her failure…” “The school had not excluded her, as she thought.”
She was escorted to school by her brothers who sought a confrontation. They claimed that she had a right to attend the school in the clothes she chose to wear; their insistence verged on the threatening. They supported their insistence by speaking of “human rights” and “legal proceedings”.
The deputy head told Shabina to go home, change into the proper school uniform and return to school properly dressed. The three went away, with the young men saying that “they” were not prepared to compromise over the issue (emphasis added). Their Lordships thought this a manner very unlikely to have been chosen by Shabina, who was not yet 14 years old.
She did not seriously try to find another school because she and her family were intent upon enforcing her “rights”. There was nothing to stop her from going to a school where her religion did not require a jilbab or where she was allowed to wear one. She did not seek the help of the school and the local education authority in solving the problem.
The school uniform rules were there to avoid clothes which were perceived as extremist Muslim and so protect girls against external pressures. The school was in the best position to weigh and consider these matters.
The school’s action could not be condemned as disproportionate. A head teacher cannot be required to undertake legal formalism, even with the help of solicitors. It would be irresponsible of any court, lacking the experience, background and detailed knowledge of the head teacher, staff and governors, to overrule their judgment on a matter as sensitive as this.
There is a line of coherent and remarkably consistent body of authority which shows that interference in the right to manifest religion is not easily established. For example: A soldier who joined the army then said he could not work on a Sunday. A teacher who having been employed told his employer he needed time of for religious observance during the lesson times. They both lost.
This case appears to be closed.