Home Office rule change for Sikh solicitors attending UK detention centres
The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed new Home Office rules which mean that Sikh solicitors will no longer have to remove articles of faith when meeting clients in UK detention centres.
The Law Society had pressed the UK Home Office to update the Detention Services Order dealing with search procedures, following a baptised Sikh solicitor being told he would need to remove his Kirpan, a small ceremonial dagger, one of the five symbols of faith Sikhs carry.
The Law Society said that the position was anomalous as Sikh ministers are allowed to carry the Kirpan, subject to it being properly secured. Solicitors are also subject to regulatory requirements which include robust vetting and police disclosure checks before they can enter detention centres to meet clients.
Gurpreet Singh Johal, a trainee solicitor at Glasgow law firm Bilkus & Boyle Solicitors, raised the issue with the Society after being told he would have to remove his Kirpan as a legal visitor, however later learned that Sikh Ministers were permitted to wear the Kirpan in detention centres.
He said: “Access to a solicitor is a fundamental right for anyone being held in detention centres. I work with clients from a variety of backgrounds, but it’s understandable that in such traumatic circumstances, some people will want legal support from someone who understands their social and cultural context, or can communicate in their own language.
“I was surprised to be told I would need to remove my Kirpan before being allowed into the centre, and while an alternative was offered, it did not meet the religious needs of a baptised Sikh. Following my experience I felt it was necessary to involve the Law Society. You always wonder whether you should make a fuss, but even outwith my personal situation, I believe that any barriers put in place to ensure safety and security have to be proportionate when it comes to clients being able to access an appropriate solicitor.
“I was very pleased the Law Society took action in raising this with raising this with the Home Office, particularly as it is acknowledged in Scots Law which permits baptised Sikh solicitors to wear the Kirpan in court. I cannot thank Neil Stevenson and the Law Society enough for their support.”
Neil Stevenson, Director of Representation and Support at the Law Society of Scotland, praised the Home Office decision to update its rules.
He said: “We raised this because it seemed unfair to baptised Sikh solicitors who have to undergo robust checks as part of their job. We were delighted to learn that the issue had been addressed through an amended order which came into force in time for the New Year.
“We aim to support all members in carrying out their professional duties and want to thank Gurpreet for making us aware of this. In an increasingly diverse legal profession in Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, we need to be more alive to these issues to ensure that solicitors can properly meet the needs of their clients while not having to unnecessarily compromise on their religious beliefs.”
ENDS 21 JANUARY 2015
Note to editors
Detention Service Orders can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/detention-service-orders
The relevant order is Detention Services Order 09/2012 - Searching Policy (Sections 53 and 55): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/searching-detainees-at-removal-centres
Visiting religious ministers
52. Ministers are subject to search but must be treated as official visitors. Refusal on their part to allow a proper search should normally mean that they are refused entry. However, the manager of religious affairs (or equivalent) should be advised and the establishment’s centre manager or duty manager must be consulted before they are refused.
53. A Sikh minister may wear a Kirpan (a small religious knife) within the establishment. This policy applies to both a Sikh minister appointed to the establishment and any other visiting Sikh minister. The Kirpan must be small (not more than approximately six inches or 15cm long including the handle). Large Kirpans are not acceptable. The Kirpan must be secured to the body under clothing. Gate/security staff should confirm that the Kirpan is being carried when the Sikh minister enters and leaves the establishment. If a Sikh minister is required to remove his Kirpan as part of the search he must be allowed to do so in private and it should not be handled by anyone apart from the Sikh
54. Detention Centre Rule 2 defines ‘legal advisers’ in relation to a detained person as his/her “counsel, representative or solicitor, and includes a clerk acting on behalf of his/her solicitor”.
55. A Sikh legal adviser may be allowed to wear a Kirpan when visiting a detainee in a designated visits area, subject to risk assessment. The Kirpan must comply with the requirements on size and being secured to the body set out in paragraph 53 above. Gate/security staff should confirm that the Kirpan is being carried when the legal adviser enters and leaves the establishment. If a Sikh legal adviser is required to remove his Kirpan as part of the search he must be allowed to do so in private and it should not be handled by anyone apart from the Sikh legal adviser. He should be allowed privacy to put the Kirpan back on afterwards.
Wearing a Kirpan in a Scottish Court
A Kirpan may be carried for religious reasons under Section 49(4) of the Criminal Law (consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995.
Informing the court - An initiated Sikh attending court should inform court officials in advance when possible, or on arrival, that a Kirpan is worn. Normal security procedures will be carried out, and the Sikh will be able to wear the Kirpan in court and the court environment.* In the court and its vicinity, the Kirpan must always be sheathed and worn out of sight. If you have any questions regarding the wearing of the Kirpan please contact the court concerned.* There may be exceptional circumstances when this will not be possible and those circumstances will be discussed on application.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Val McEwan at the Law Society of Scotland on 0131 226 8884. Email email@example.com