In a case which has attracted much press attention, the High Court held in G v Head Teacher and Governors of St Gregory’s Catholic Science College that the school’s ban on boys wearing cornrow hairstyles (instituted to reduce the risk of gang culture and ethnic tensions) was indirectly discriminatory on the ground of race and could not be justified.
On the facts, the claimant was a boy who had been accepted at the school before he was aware of the cornrow ban. He was told that he could not attend school until the cornrows were removed. As he was unwilling to comply with the policy, he transferred to another school and claimed indirect race discrimination. He submitted evidence which indicated that some Afro Caribbeans regard the cutting of their hair to be wrong and therefore for culture and ethnic reasons keep it in cornrows. The school argued that this evidence was inadequate to establish a cultural or ethnic need to wear cornrows. The court held that the threshold proposed by the school was too high and that the statutory test of whether there had been a ‘particular disadvantage’ had been met.
The decision muddies the water in terms of identifying what customs can be regarded as an integral part of one’s ethnicity. Where to draw the line between what is simply a habit and what becomes part of the fabric of one’s cultural identity will be increasingly difficult. Certainly uniform policies should be revisited to ensure that they do not infringe this more nebulous test.