Recent reports have suggested that a group of four inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Isis in South London are threatening to sue the prison service. The inmates allege that the prison service has discriminated against them by failing to allow them to practice their Jedi religion freely. The prison service acknowledged that Jedi was a religion recognised on the UK census but indicated that it was recognised by the National Offender Management Service (“NOMS”). NOMS does recognise Rastafarianism as a religion. According to the 2012 census, Jedi is cited as the seventh most popular religion in the UK.
The Equality Act 2010 makes discrimination base on religion or belief unlawful. There is no definitive list of religions or belief systems which are recognised by the law. Given that beliefs are often extremely personal to the individual holding them, it makes this a very difficult to area in which to legislate. Previous case law has formulated a set of criteria for determining whether a belief is recognised to the extent of being legally protected:-
- The belief must be genuinely held;
- It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
- It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has previously stated that “belief in the supreme nature of the Jedi Knights” would fail at least four of these five limitations on what amounts to a belief. On that basis, the force may not appear to be strong for the Jedis.Jack Boyle Senior Solicitor – Employment Law