Court dismisses lawyer's argument in dreadlocks case

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

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THE Supreme Court yesterday dismissed arguments for children to be allowed into schools with dreadlock hairstyles, whether or not the hairdo is for religious reasons.

When the matter was called up in the downtown Kingston court the arguments were raised by attorney-at-law Isat Buchanan, who is representing Dale Virgo — the father of a five-year-old girl who was given an ultimatum to cut her dreadlocks before being enrolled in a St Catherine public institution last year.

Buchanan submitted that his client is concerned that his other child, who is not yet in school, could face a similar situation.

However, a panel of judges, including Sonia Bertram-Linton, Evon Brown and Nicole Simmons, told the court that the claimant would have to make a claim when the child is in jeopardy.

The judges argued further that no other child's rights have been infringed.

Noting that the father cannot make a claim on the basis of what he thinks will happen, the judge said, based on the affidavit, the child's rights are not in jeopardy.

Carla Thomas, an attorney from the Attorney General's Chambers appearing on behalf of the Government of Jamaica, submitted that the claimant's submission fails to meet the requirements to make a constitutional claim.

She argued that the claimant must show justiciable complaint that is personalised to the claimant, and not someone else.

The court was subsequently told that Virgo has no standing to bring a claim and, as a result, his claim should be dismissed.

Meanwhile, the court was also told that the school's affidavit stated that if administrators had known that the hairstyle was for religious purposes they would have made an exemption to the rule.

But Buchanan, before yielding to the court that a declaration from his client stating that the hairdo was for religious reasons was missing from the evidence presented before the court, said the rule was “hard and fast”, and insisted that his client had told the school.

However, the attorney from the Attorney General's Chambers argued that it was only stated in the second affidavit that the hairstyle is for religious purposes.

In August 2019, an injunction was granted on a motion filed by Jamaicans For Justice on July 18, on behalf of the parents of the child, who were given an ultimatum that their daughter had until August 29 to remove her locks in order to enrol at the institution, in keeping with the school's policy.

The matter continues today.

— Racquel Porter


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