UK court rules school's "gang braids" ban racist

Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:20am EDT
 
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LONDON (Reuters) - A school's decision to ban some hairstyles it says have become associated with gang culture has resulted in "unlawful, indirect racial discrimination which is not justified," a British court ruled on Friday.

The test case decision in London's High Court is a victory for the family of African-Caribbean teenager "G," who wears his hair in "cornrow" braids, close to the scalp, as part of a family tradition.

G, who cannot be named, and his mother challenged a refusal by St Gregory's Catholic Science College in Harrow, north London, to let G through the school gates with his braids in September 2009, when he was 11.

G, now 13, who left in tears on his first day, does not wish to return to the school despite winning the case.

Mr. Justice Collins ruled the hair policy was not unlawful in itself, "but if it is applied without any possibility of exception, such as G, then it is unlawful."

Collins said in future the school must consider allowing other boys to wear cornrows if it is "a genuine family tradition based on cultural and social reasons," the Press Association reported.

The school had expressed concern that it was serving an area where there was gun and knife crime, much of it gang-related.

Hairstyles could be "badges" of gang identity, it said during the case while emphasizing it did not regard cornrows as necessarily gang-linked.

Official figures show serious youth violence is rising in London, with teenage gangs, often involved in so-called post code disputes over territory, widely seen as part of the problem.

(Writing by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison)