BELIZE CITY, Fri. Jan. 29, 2021– The Supreme Court of Belize delivered a landmark ruling on Friday, January 29, 2021 in favour of female police officers who faced disciplinary charges for refusing to remove their dreadlocks. The court ruled that such regulations were an infringement on those officers’ right to freedom of expression, among others. The two officers who challenged the Police Department’s regulations are PC Shantel Berry and PC Alleeya Wade, who lodged a joint constitutional claim against the department that resulted in this precedent-setting court decision.
In May 2019, five female officers faced disciplinary charges after they refused to remove their dreadlocks. At the time, the Police Department had said that the wearing of such a hairstyle violated section 7 of their Standing Order. The two claimants felt the regulations were unconstitutional, since, according to one of the two women, her wearing of dreadlocks is a part of her Rastafarian faith, while the other claimant asserted that the hairstyle is an expression of her African identity. The women were represented by attorney Leslie Mendez, who said that the decision is to be celebrated as a victory for black women’s right to expression of their identity.
And while a written judgment has not been delivered yet, the oral judgment, handed down by Justice Sonya Young, will prompt employers to consider the implications of applying regulations within companies that may seem standard on the surface but infringe on certain rights of employees.
During an interview with News5 last week, attorney Leslie Mendez said, “The right to protection against discriminatory treatment doesn’t only guarantee that you are going to be treated the same, but rather it also guarantees that our differences will be accommodated and our differences will be celebrated.”
The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, also weighed in on the ruling, saying that the court’s decision has prompted his department to revisit the regulations with a view to coming in line with the recent ruling from the high court. He also said that the Police Department long ago moved on from this matter.
“The officers involved, they have been working, and we have no issue. Some of them have been promoted, even with their dreadlocks, and the court ruling is the court ruling,” Commissioner of Police Chester Williams shared.
He added, “While, yes, I do believe that women should be able to express themselves, particularly in terms of how their natural appearance is supposed to be, I do believe that when it comes to professional organizations, that there must be some guidelines that women should be able to follow.”
The attorney for the claimants shared that in other jurisdictions, similar actions of this nature in high courts have been unsuccessful. As a result, the country and region owe these two brave WPC’s a debt of gratitude.