On Friday 6th November, Sikhs lost their fight against the UK Cabinet Office regarding the inclusion of a separate category for Sikh ethnicity tick-box in the upcoming census of 2021.
The High Court in London dismissed the challenge brought forward by the Sikh Federation UK, with Justice Akhlaq Choudhury concluding that the census, as currently designed, will not prevent people from identifying as ethnically as Sikh as a write-in option.
The judgment notes, “In coming to that view, I do not underestimate the importance to the Claimant of having a specific Sikh tick-box under the ethnic group question. However, the census, as currently designed, will not prevent any respondent who wishes to do so from identifying as ethnically Sikh. The write-in option, with the auto-fill function in the online version, will enable the respondent to do so. It cannot be right that any challenge to executive decision-making should require the decision maker to cease ongoing work, particularly in respect of a project of the scale of a national census.”
Sikh Federation UK was represented by Leigh Day at the Royal Courts of Justice. They had previously claimed that it would be unlawful for the Cabinet Office to present a Census Order based on the proposals set out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in its December 2018 White Paper. Sikhs are recognised as a separate religion in the optional religious question introduced in the 2001 Census but are now campaigning for a separate tick-box for ethnicity.
The judge also stressed, “Such matters are not for the court to determine. This judgment is concerned solely with the question whether, as alleged by the Claimant [Sikh Federation], the Cabinet Office, which has responsibility for laying the necessary legislation for the 2021 Census, has acted unlawfully in the process leading to the making of the Census Order.”
Sikh Federation UK said that although the High Court has rejected its claim, refusing to quash the census legislation, its battle for a separate tick-box continues.
“While we are disappointed with the court’s decision, we look forward to working closely with MPs and government bodies to find another solution to ensure the specific needs of the Sikh community are not overlooked in the allocation of public resources and policymaking,” it said in a statement.