Judge rules that top school’s admission policy does not break race-relations laws
A father who has been refused a judicial review of the admissions policy of JFS, Europe’s biggest Jewish school, has sought permission to appeal.
Last week, in a 72-page written judgement, Mr Justice Munby cleared JFS of the accusation that its admissions policy broke race laws both directly and indirectly. He said the school’s policy was based on religious and not racial or ethnic grounds.
The unprecedented case, heard over four days in March, had been brought after the school in Kenton, Middlesex, refused to give a place to an 11-year-old boy — known as M — whose mother, originally Roman Catholic, had been converted to Judaism by a Progressive minister.
The school’s admissions policy stated that it accepted only children who were halachically Jewish — that is, born of a Jewish mother — according to the Office of the Chief Rabbi (OCR), or who have undergone an Orthodox conversion.
The JC can also reveal this week that the cost of defending the case so far for the school and the United Synagogue, which was a party to the proceedings, has been about £200,000, while the father, known in court as E, has been given legal aid.
Both the school and the US fully expect those costs to rise further as, even if E is turned down by Mr Justice Munby, he will go direct to the Court of Appeal and possibly beyond.
JFS chair of governors Russell Kett said: “While the judgment wholly vindicates the position that the school has taken, and justifies the necessary legal costs it has incurred, it is of great concern and unacceptable that a state school such as JFS has had to find these funds from within its own resources.”
United Synagogue president Simon Hochhauser said: “We welcome the court’s ruling and are of course pleased that JFS’s admissions’ procedures and policies have been so fully endorsed. However, it is most regrettable that this action has already cost the community over £100,000 in legal fees.”
E, who has chosen to remain anonymous, broke his silence this week. In a statement, he said: “We believe all Jewish children should be recognised equally and have the opportunity of education without drawing prejudicial distinctions between mothers’ backgrounds and between mothers and fathers.
“It has long been expected that this case, which is of significant public interest, would go to the Court of Appeal. We will accordingly seek leave to put these points to the Court of Appeal where we hope unjust discrimination will be recognised and fairness for all will prevail.”
Mr Justice Munby took submissions from the school, the United Synagogue and the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements, as well as the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
The judge said: “The simple fact, in my judgment, is that JFS’s admissions policy is, as the Schools Adjudicator correctly found, based on religious and not on racial (ethnic) grounds, reflecting, as it does, a religious and not an ethnic view as to who, in the eyes of the OCR and JFS, is or is not a Jew. Such an analysis . . . fits comfortably within the distinction drawn in (another case) between actions by or in relation to Jews based on religious grounds and actions by or in relation to Jews based on racial (ethnic) grounds.
“The cause of a non-Orthodox applicant failing to meet JFS’s admission requirements can only be described as a religious cause, that is, the Jewish religious laws as described by Dayan Menachem Gelley and Beth Din Registrar David Frei. I agree.”
The judge pointed out that if E had succeeded, the implications would have affected all faith schools.
E had sought permission first to declare the school’s admissions policy for 2007-8 unlawful and to challenge the decision of the appeals panel to refuse a place. Secondly, he wanted to challenge the decision of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, who also found against him in November last year, and with whose decision Justice Munby agreed.
Except for a technical argument about section 71 of the Race Relations Act, the judge rejected all the arguments put by E’s counsel, Dinah Rose QC.
It was revealed in the judgment that M’s parents had divorced. In a letter to the Treasury Solicitor, his mother had accepted the school’s decision that her son did not fulfil the entry criteria and, while not a party to the case, told the judge that he was “settled” in another school. She said that the High Court was “not the place to discuss Jewish law” and that the judicial-review proceeding was “an unnecessary investment of everybody’s time and resources”.