UK Prison Guard Told He Can't Wear His Sikh Dagger In Jail

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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
y Claire Duffin And Catherine Oakes Cduffin

A SIKH prison officer sacked for wearing a religious dagger in jail has lost a legal challenge against his dismissal.

Jagdip Singh Dhinsa, 26, of Derby, had worked at Dovegate Prison for three weeks when he was sacked for carrying the knife, known as a Kirpan.

Prison policy at the jail, near Uttoxeter, states that wearing the knife is forbidden as it could put staff and inmates at risk.

Mr Dhinsa took prison firm Serco and Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke to an employment tribunal, seeking compensation for race discrimination and unfair dismissal.

But Judge Nicholas John Roper ruled that Mr Dhinsa had not been discriminated against. He also upheld a National Offender Management Service ban on the wearing of the Kirpan by staff working within prisons, except Sikh prison chaplains.

Afterwards, in a statement Mr Dhinsa said he was "disappointed".

The Kirpan is worn by Sikhs who have been "initiated" or baptised. Mr Dhinsa said: "Before my dismissal, when attending assessments and after my appointment, I entered the prison on at least three occasions and declared I was wearing a Kirpan – when going through security, the metal detector machines, and when body searches were conducted – and encountered no issues.

"The Kirpan is an article of faith which signifies compassion and reminds a Sikh to uphold the truth."

Mr Dhinsa started working as a trainee prison officer at HMP Dovegate in July 2009 but was sacked three weeks later. The tribunal, in Birmingham, heard that he had turned down an alternative role at the prison.

Mejindarpal Kaur, legal director of campaign group United Sikhs, said the ruling was "disturbing".

She said that shortly before Mr Dhinsa was employed, the National Offender Management Service had approved, in principle, a national policy that would allow the wearing the Kirpan by prison staff. But she said that NOMS then decided to block the implementation of the new policy when it became aware of a letter of inquiry from Mr Dhinsa's MP, Margaret Beckett.

Ms Kaur said: "The wearer of a Kirpan wears it with responsibility and dignity and has a religious duty to ensure that it is not misused."

Ms Kaur said there were knives in prisons that prisoners "have easy access to". And she said prison officers do carry other items that are capable of being "offensive" such as ligature knives – small knives used in case of inmates being found trying to take their own life – and batons, which Ms Kaur said are "worn visibly".

She added: "It's very disturbing that the employment tribunal judge has ruled that the Kirpan ban was justified even though the government had agreed in principle to a proposal to allow the wearing of the Kirpan by Sikh prison staff."

Kulvinder Kaur, who represented Mr Dhinsa, said his client was now considering the judgement.

A spokeswoman for Serco said: "HMP Dovegate has strict policies in place to protect the safety and security of both its staff and inmates. While we respect the faith needs of all our employees, wearing a Kirpan in prison poses a risk."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The risks of bringing a bladed implement into any prison are significant and both NOMS, prison governors and directors have an overriding duty of care to staff and prisoners and a duty to minimise the levels of violence in prisons.

"The major risks involved with the Kirpan are that a member of staff may be targeted or even taken hostage by prisoners if it is known that he is wearing the Kirpan but also that the Kirpan may be inadvertently dropped and lost within the prison."

In Sikhism, the Kirpan is one of five "articles of faith" that must be carried at all times. The others are kesh (unshorn hair), kara (steel bangle), kanga (comb) and kacha (special underwear).

The Kirpan is carried in a sheath attached to a cloth belt. It is normally worn discreetly under clothes


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