Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Ethnicity, Law and Human Rights: the English Experience
Sebastian Poulter

(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)
418pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: ISBN 0-19-825773-2.

Oxford has a great reputation for producing fine monographs on legal issues and this time continues that tradition. The exposition of relevant rules and principles is illuminating, the analysis of the six chosen case studies is insightful, and the scholariness of the writing is very apparent throughout.

After clarifying the characteristics of the two mostly widely accepted models for dealing with an ethnically diverse population - assimilation and cultural pluralism - Poulter charts the shift in Britain from the former to the latter since the mid-1960s. He stresses how in many respects the different approaches have converged, so that today the overall approach is best described as "modified pluralism". He agrees with Parekh that there is a certain set of British values which no immigrants should be allowed to undermine - monogamy, legal and moral equality of all men, equality of sexes (sic), and basic civil liberties. This last idea is taken to include democracy ("free and regular elections to government"), the rule of law, natural justice, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, religious toleration and recognition of English as the national language.

Poulter thus adopts an essentially Millian view of the liberal state as a society which allows people to lead their lives in their own ways provided they do not harm others. He explains how, in Britain, both case-law and statute law have underpinned this concept of the state, often through reliance on the vague notion of "the public interest". At times the response to ethnic diversity has been to criminalise the behaviour in question, to deny entry to those who practise it, or (occasionally) to accord the practice a special privilege.

The fascinating case studies cover Jewish slaughtering practices, the nomadism of gypsies, Islamic family traditions, the siting of a Krishna temple, exemptions sought by Sikhs for their turbans and beards, and the status accorded by Rastafarians to dreadlocks and cannabis. The author neatly sums up the prevailing legal approaches to these issues and in a concluding chapter stresses how resort to international human rights documents is increasingly seen as the appropriate source from which to mine legal solutions.

Brice Dickson, Chief Commissioner
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page