It never feels to amaze me that by casually flicking through the weekend newspapers and news outlets you can discover stories about discrimination without really making much of an effort. I often say this to my students when I ask them to highlight a media story about an aspect of discrimination law at the beginning of each class. There’s really no excuse for saying that they couldn’t find anything to talk about.
And so it proved today – although I must give credit to my students who had alerted me to this story some weeks ago during one of their regular presentations.
The story concerns Mr and Mrs Mander who have just won their claim for unlawful direct discrimination on the grounds of their race. Race (including national origin and a person’s colour), of course, is one of the protected characteristics which is set out in terms of Sections 4 and 9 of the Equality Act 2010.
Section 13 of the Act contains the definition of direct discrimination.
The Manders are of Sikh and Indian heritage who were both born in the UK and are British citizens. Their parents all came to the UK when they were small children. The couple participate in ceremonies and events throughout the Sikh Holy Year, but otherwise they are not particularly religious.
In this respect, they are very similar to people from a White British or Irish background who attend Church, for example, at Christmas and Easter. The couple are both university educated professionals with senior positions in the IT industry and they are comfortably well off. Culturally, the Manders see themselves as British, but obviously they are rightly aware and proud of their heritage.
After numerous attempts to start a family, the Manders decided to investigate the possibility of adopting a child. For this purpose, the couple dealt with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Adopt Berkshire. The experience would end in disappointment for the couple.
The Manders took a claim to Oxford County Court alleging direct race discrimination (and alternatively indirect discrimination in terms of Section 19 of the Act of 2010) against the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Adopt Berkshire (the defendants).
It should also be appreciated that Section 29 of the Equality Act makes it clear that individuals can experience unlawful discrimination in respect of the provision of a service – in this case that of adoption services.
The couple also alleged that they had suffered discrimination in respect of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the following:
- Article 8 (the right to family and private life)
- Article 12 (the right to marry and found a family)
- Article 14 (the prohibition on discrimination)
In the event, at the trial, the Manders decided not to pursue claims in terms of Article 8 and Section 19.
Her Honour Judge Clarke summarised the essence of the Manders’ claim:
‘It is important to understand that Mr and Mrs Mander’s claim is not that they applied to be approved as adopters but were wrongly or unfairly rejected or discriminated against either during the process of consideration of their application for adoption, or when considering whether to match them to a child. Mr and Mrs Mander’s case is that the Defendants discriminated against them on the basis of their race before they made formal application to adopt, inter alia by refusing to progress them to the ROI/application stage.’
The Council and Adopt Berkshire did not at any time advance the argument that the Manders were in any way unsuitable as prospective, adoptive parents.
The justification given for the refusal to permit the Manders to proceed to the Registration of Interest/application stage was that it was unlikely that children from the same cultural background as the couple would become available for adoption in the short or longer term.
The couple were informed by letter from the Service Manager of Adopt Berkshire that:
‘In the last 17 months since Adopt Berkshire we have not had a single child of Indian or Pakistani heritage referred to us for placement …’
The letter went on to state:
‘… it is hard at the current time to advise you how best to proceed regarding adopting within the U.K.; however another option that you may wish to explore is the option of adopting from India – while this is likely to be a lengthy process and may be financially stretching, it may ultimately be more likely to enable you to achieve the placement of a young child whose cultural heritage is similar to your own.’
Eventually, the couple adopted a child from the United States of America, but at a considerable financial cost.
In evidence, the Manders were in no doubt that they had been treated differently by Adopt Berkshire:
‘There was no doubt in my mind that she [Mrs Popat, an employee of Adopt Berkshire] in fact made a judgment based on the colour of our skin. I was never treated like this before. I grew up in this country. My grandfather fought in the British Army – I was hurt and disappointed.’ (Mrs Manders)
‘Adopt Berkshire made me feel that the country where I grew up still saw me as different. It did not matter that I grew up here, as long as I was not white, I could not be British. I found this thought very disturbing – I had trouble sleeping at night because of how angry and helpless I felt.’ (Mr Manders)
Held: by the County Court that the Manders had suffered direct discrimination on the grounds of their race when their application was not progressed to the ROI/application stage of the adoption process.
Her Honour Judge Clarke did not, however, uphold the couple’s claim that their rights under Article 12 of the European Convention had been breached. As her Honour pointed out the right to adopt a child is not covered by the Convention, but rather is left to national law.
Judge Clarke also acknowledged that the discrimination suffered by the Manders was of a very serious nature:
‘I consider this to be a very serious case, which sits at the top of the middle, or bottom of the upper, range of the Vento bands …’
In this respect, the Manders were awarded both ordinary (£29,000) and special damages (£60,000).
The application of the Vento Bands was discussed in a previous Blog, Hurt feelings:
A link to the decision of the County Court in Reena and Sandeep Mander v (1) Royal Borough of Windsor and Berkshire and (2) Adopt Berkshire  Case No: C01RG184 can be found below:
A link to the story in The Guardian can be found below:
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 7 December 2019