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Muslim woman must remove her Niqaab if she is to give evidence

On Monday, Judge Peter Murphy at Blackfriars Crown Court made a ruling that has since spurred a national debate in the UK.

He ruled that a female Muslim defendant, known for legal reasons as ‘D’, would not be permitted to wear the Niqaab (a veil that conceals the face) whilst giving evidence.

Murphy warned that being unable to observe the demeanour of witnesses and their reactions to being questioned and to other evidence required “a compromise of the quality of criminal justice delivered by the trial process.” He claimed that such a compromise may even “render it altogether impotent” to deliver a fair and just outcome.

While Murphy acknowledged D’s religious beliefs, he ruled that it was the court’s duty to ensure open and effective justice, which ultimately trumps religious freedom.

He said: “The defendant could not expect the court to set aside its established procedure to accommodate a particular religious practice. That would be to privilege religious practice in a discriminatory way and would adversely affect the administration of justice.”

“The court must be entitled to place some restriction on a person’s right to manifest their religious beliefs, if the unrestrained exercise of that interferes to an unacceptable degree with the court’s ability to conduct a trial which is fair to all parties.”

He did however order that there be no publication of a court sketch of the unveiled woman and agreed to make allowances for her to speak from behind a screen and out of sight of the public.

Unlike our French neighbours, who have deep historic roots of the separation of faith and state, this veil ban case is the first of its kind in the UK. It calls to question whether the issue needs to be formally addressed.

Judge Murphy said: “The relegation of such important issues to the sphere of ‘judge craft’ or ‘general guidance’ has resulted in widespread judicial anxiety and uncertainty and a reluctance to address the issue.”

“[The ruling] is not a discrimination against religion. It is a matter of upholding the rule of law in a democratic society.”

While Judge Murphy presents a rational justification for his ruling, there is a general fear that others may not see the matter from his perspective.

Britain’s leading Muslim organisation claimed that Murphy’s decision threatened to undermine the nation’s long-standing tradition of religious tolerance.

Talat Ahmed, chair of the Muslim Council’s social and family affairs committee claimed that banning the garment was “un-British” and would “involve embarking on a slippery slope where the freedom to wear religious attire of all faiths would be at risk.”

 

Sources

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24119519

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/a-veiled-threat-to-race-relations-judge-rules-that-woman-must-remove-niqab-to-give-evidence-during-trial-8819723.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10312604/Muslim-woman-Rebekah-Dawson-must-remove-niqab-while-giving-evidence-judge-rules.html

 


 

 

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