Following my post of yesterday, I have had the following response from Andrew Singh Bogan:
Thank you for your email; I read the blog with interest and have taken time out of my hectic schedule to submit this response.
The EHRC website (http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/) advises that their “…job is to promote equality and human rights, and to create a fairer Britain. [They] do this by providing advice and guidance, working to implement an effective legislative framework and raising awareness of your rights.“
Section 3 of the Equality Act 2006 imposes a general duty on the Commission to conduct its functions with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which human rights and equality are respected and protected. This includes promoting understanding of the importance of equality and diversity, encourage good practice in relation to equality and diversity and to enforce the equality enactments. Also, promoting importance of the understanding and protecting of human rights, to promote awareness and to encourage local authorities to act compliantly with human rights.
The EHRC, in their application, say that they wish to inform the court as to the UK’s obligations to protect minority rights under a number of different international instruments, including the one that you cite. (Incidentally, our counsel did bring these to the attention of the High Court but they appear to have been overlooked). That is but one strand to their expected argument which we expect will deal with the wider concern of “promoting understanding of the importance of equality and diversity and to encourage good practice in relation to equality and diversity”.
Turning to your specific concern, the Appellant’s case is based in entirety on his religious belief which stipulates an open air cremation. Were it not for his faith he would not have brought his claim. However, I want to make it clear that the case is a much wider one and its public importance is NOT solely limited to Hindus or any minority religious/ethnic group. To think so is to offend the very nature of the mutual tolerance and respect that the Appellant is so vigorously fighting for in his appeal.
Having spoken to our counsel this morning, it is perhaps understandable that the term “discrimination” automatically draws connotations of ethnic/religious minorities. Discrimination, as protected under article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights (part of the Appellant’s argument before the court) however is a very wide and powerful tool for all strands of society. It includes within its definition cultural belief, expectation and practice by society as a whole. To interpret this case as being by a Hindu for Hindus is to do it a serious injustice. The Sikh party who has intervened in the case does so not on the basis of religious belief (they accept that open air cremation is not a religious belief for them) but solely on the basis of culture, tradition and perhaps most importantly for your purpose FREEDOM OF CHOICE as enshrined in article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. They argue that if they choose to undergo natural cremations, the authorities ought to recognise their right to so opt and show them the tolerance and respect to do so. Like Rupert Callender, their intervention to secure the option is driven by their ritual practices as part of their culture and identity as a distinct group. Those who are subscribers to your organisation are entirely the same and represent your own distinct group.
To answer your question head-on, this is very much a matter of individual liberty for all citizens of the UK who choose, for whatever reason, to engage in natural cremation. For all who so choose, we should ALL get behind this appeal now because it greatly benefits us ALL.
If the Appellant wins – we ALL do!
In addition, if we are successful in our appeal then the guidance of the Court of Appeal will have wider implications for other aspects of society who wish to secure the right to engage in a genuinely held belief, ritual, custom or practice no matter how obscure it may objectively seem. The connotations are far too wide to cover here. This case as correctly been touted as the biggest case on discrimination thus far and it truly is history in the making.
Finally, I, as does my counsel, agree with Jonathan Taylor, who says “just as it would constitute religious discrimination to disallow Hindu open air cremations, it would be equally discriminatory to confine this right to a minority, or for that matter even to a majority”. The application for intervention by the EHRC stands us in good stead in our fight against the authorities in so ensuring and we should all get behind it.
All the best,