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Kirpan ban did not discriminate against Sikh prison officer

In Dhinsa v Serco and another an employment tribunal held that a ban on prison officers carrying knives did not amount to indirect race or religious discrimination against a Sikh prison officer who wished to wear a kirpan (a ceremonial dagger), one of the five “articles of faith” worn by Amritdhari Sikhs.

Mr Dhinsa is an Amritdhari (or baptised) Sikh, and is required to wear the five articles of faith, of which one, the kirpan, is a small ceremonial knife or dagger worn in a sheath under the clothes. However, the Prison Service policy (which binds Serco and its employees) is that no-one may wear a kirpan inside a prison except Sikh chaplains. Mr Dhinsa was not prepared to remove his kirpan, so Serco terminated his employment.

The tribunal rejected both the race and religion or belief discrimination claims. The ban did not amount to indirect race discrimination, because fewer than 10% of Sikhs are Amritdhari and so the ban did not disadvantage the Sikh ethnic group as a whole. However, it put Amritdhari Sikhs at a particular disadvantage because of their belief, and therefore was potentially indirect religion or belief discrimination against those with that belief. But, the ban was justified by the legitimate aim of safety and security within prisons, and was proportionate.

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