Creating a fairer Britain
16 December 2009
The Commission today welcomed a Supreme Court ruling which rejected narrowing the scope of the Race Relations Act.
The Commission intervened in the case of R (E) v JFS to provide expert guidance to the Court, arguing that the north west London school’s use of an ethnic-based test in selecting students did not comply with Race Relations Act.
By a majority of five to four the Supreme Court found that the school’s test that a pupil’s mother must be of a specific Jewish heritage meant that the selection process was based on ethnic origin and therefore breached the Race Relations Act.
The ruling will not prevent faith schools from continuing to uphold their religious ethos, and will not change schools' rights to select pupils based on religious belief. It does mean that Jewish schools will not be able to set entrance criteria based on matrilineal Jewish descent.
Legal action was brought against the school by the parents of M. He was a practicing Jew but was refused admission to JFS because the school and Chief Rabbi did not recognise his mother as Jewish under Orthodox Jewish law.
The Court acknowledged that the JFS and the Chief Rabbi were acting on sincerely held religious beliefs. All Judges emphasised that they did not believe the JFS and the Chief Rabbi were acting in a 'racist' way 'in the popular sense of the word'.
Following the Court of Appeal ruling the school’s admissions policy was altered and the child was admitted to the school.
Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
'This is an important verdict. Whilst not seeking to interfere with the Jewish community's right to promote its religious ethos, the Commission believed that it had to intervene in order to preserve the same protection against racial discrimination for Jews as for anyone else - not least at a time when anti-Semitic groups are active across Europe. The decision of the Court achieves that end; and it confirms that no school will be allowed to discriminate based on the ethnic origin of an individual.
'This ruling does not undermine the traditions of Jewish education, and we intend to work with the Chief Rabbi and other faith leaders to ensure that the broad interpretation of the Race Relations Act will not interfere with any family's opportunity to choose an educational environment supportive of their beliefs.'
For more information please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission press office on 020 3117 0255 or out of hours on 07767 272 818.
The ruling can be viewed on The Supreme Court website (there may be a delay of several hours).
The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.