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Sikh Federation UK launches another legal challenge over Census 2021

The Sikh Federation UK has brought a second judicial review challenge against the Cabinet Office over government plans for the 2021 Census.

The Federation’s original challenge – over the absence of a tick box for ethnic Sikhs alongside religious Sikhs – was dismissed in December last year by Mrs Justice Lang, with the judge finding, amongst other things, that it was “plainly premature”.

The latest challenge is in response to the draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 that was laid before Parliament on 2 March.

The Sikh Federation UK said its challenge was backed by more than 150 Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations.

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The Federation argues that the recommendation from the Office for National Statistics not to include a Sikh ethnicity category was based on unlawful reasoning by the ONS.

It claims that the ONS failed to apply its published evaluation criterion on “public acceptability” to its assessment and failed to apply it consistently across the questions/response options considered for inclusion in the 2021 Census.

In addition, the group argues that the ONS unlawfully relied on a report by external research agency Kantar, which applied a different evaluation criteria to that promised by the ONS, and which the group claims displays inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

Law firm Leigh Day, which is acting for the Sikh Federation, said: “The Government itself has recognised that there is evidence to suggest that Sikhs are experiencing significant disadvantage in several areas of life including employing, housing, health and education, and that having Census data on the ethnically Sikh population would allow improvements to planning to better meet the needs of the Sikh community.”

Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation UK, said: “The stakes have been raised and Cabinet Office Ministers must now decide without input from Office for National Statistics (ONS) officials whether it would be better to agree to the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box response option and get on with the census or continue the battle with the Sikh community in the courts.”

Rosa Curling, from law firm Leigh Day who represents the Sikh Federation, along with Erin Alcock, said: “Our client’s concerns about the lack of an ethnic Sikh tick-box on the 2021 Census have not changed. The concerns they raised over flaws identified within the process for determining whether or not to include a Sikh ethnic tick-box have not been addressed by the courts to date.

“Our clients continue to argue that without a Sikh ethnicity tick-box on the next census, the Sikh community will continue to be at a disadvantage in relation to the allocation of public resources.”

Ayesha Christie and David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers are counsel instructed in this case. 

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