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 Home Office to update the detention services order dealing with search procedures after a Sikh solicitor was told he would need to remove his kirpan, a small ceremonial dagger, one of the five symbols of faith Sikhs who are initiated or baptised into the faith must 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, when visiting detention centres.
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.
Mr Johal said 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.”