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High Court judge dismisses legal challenge over lack of Sikh tick-box in 2021 Census

A High Court judge has rejected a second legal challenge from the Sikh Federation UK over the lack of a Sikh tick-box as a distinct available response to the ethnic group question in the forthcoming 2021 Census.

Information as to the ethnicity of respondents has been sought since the 1991 Census.

The Office for National Statistics did not recommend a Sikh tick-box for the 2011 Census and this same recommendation was made for the forthcoming census. This was reflected in the Census Order 2020 made on 20 May 2020.

The claimants argue that the lack of a Sikh tick-box has led to significant undercounting of the Sikh population.

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In December 2019 Mrs Justice Lang dismissed the original challenge, finding amongst other things that it was “plainly premature”.

In the latest proceedings Mr Amrik Singh Gill, the chair of the Sikh Federation UK, challenged the failure of the Census Order to include a Sikh tick-box as unlawful. The claimant sought a declaration to that effect and a quashing order.

In Gill, R (On the Application Of) v Cabinet Office [No.3] [2020] EWHC 2931 (Admin) Mr Justice Choudhury said it was important to note that the judgment was not concerned with whether or not there should be a Sikh tick-box in the census form or with the respective merits of the arguments for and against such a tick-box. “Such matters are not for the Court to determine.”

The judge stressed that his judgment was concerned solely with the question whether, as alleged by the claimant, the Cabinet Office, which has responsibility for laying the necessary legislation for the 2021 Census, had acted unlawfully in the process leading to the making of the Census Order. “This is solely a question of law.”

Mr Justice Choudhury concluded that:

  1. Ground 1 of the claim fails because the ONS did not, as alleged, fail to apply the published policy in respect of assessing tick-boxes and nor did it apply another hidden or secret policy to that exercise. In my judgment, the ONS conducted its assessment in accordance with published criteria.
  2. Ground 2 of the claim fails because the ONS did what it said it would do in that it applied an updated version of a prioritisation tool developed for the 2011 Census.
  3. Ground 3 of the claim fails because the ONS did not apply its criteria inconsistently as between different topics.
  4. Ground 4 of the claim fails because a report on which the ONS placed some reliance did not contain, as alleged, any "legally unsustainable" conclusions.

The judge therefore dismissed the claim.

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