Enormous bill for Sikh bangle case

17th April 2009 at 01:00
School could be landed with costs and damages totalling pound;200k following student's High Court win

A school has learnt that it will have to pay out hefty damages to a Sikh teenager who was barred from wearing her Kara bangle, TES Cymru has discovered.

The amount of compensation Aberdare Girls' School will have to pay 15- year-old Sarika Watkins-Singh after losing a discrimination battle at the High Court in June last year has yet to be finalised, but it is now understood that the final legal bill could exceed pound;200,000.

Costs incurred by human rights organisation Liberty, which brought the case on behalf of Ms Watkins-Singh under the Race Relations Act, have been put at around pound;140,000. The school's own costs are pound;76,000.

The teenager is seeking damages for discrimination and personal injury in a separate legal action.

It is understood that the school has paid around pound;60,000 of Liberty's costs but is disputing the rest, and that it accepts Ms Watkins-Singh's damages claim, but is contesting the amount.

Ian Blake, the school's former chair of governors, said the costs had been met by reserve funds. But it is understood the school, which has an annual budget of pound;2.2 million, is seeking a contribution from the local authority, although TES Cymru was unable to contact Peter Scott, the current chair, for confirmation.

Ms Watkins-Singh had claimed that wearing the bangle was fundamental to her religious belief. She was excluded after refusing to take it off and spent some weeks being taught in isolation. The school denied racial discrimination, saying that wearing the bangle broke its uniform policy.

In his judgment following the hearing last June, Mr Justice Silber said decision-makers at the school were "entitled to some sympathy as they could not have been instructed properly on the effect of the Race Relations Act and Equality Act".

Rhondda Cynon Taf council stopped giving the school legal advice when it refused to back down and opted to fight the case in court. But since Liberty's costs have become known, a council spokeswoman said it had been "in communication with the school in relation to the financial matters surrounding this case".

No one at Liberty was available to comment in detail on its legal bill or confirm that this was being contested. But a spokeswoman said the figures obtained by TES Cymru were "in the right ballpark".

Ms Watkins-Singh's mother, Sanita, said they were claiming damages because her daughter had suffered two years of disruption.

Mr Blake said the most disappointing element of the case was that Ms Watkins-Singh had not returned to school. Instead, she has been receiving home tuition. She recently passed her GCSE in Welsh and plans to go to college next year.

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