A judge in London ruled [materials] on Monday that a Muslim woman who is a defendant in an upcoming trial must remove her full-face veil when presenting evidence. A judge for the Blackfriars Crown Court [official website] held that the woman, whose name cannot be identified for legal reasons, may wear her niqab, a garment that covers nearly her whole face, during most of the trial, but must remove it when presenting evidence to the court [Daily Mail report]. The judge emphasized [BBC report] that it was important for the jury to see the defendant in order to assess her testimony. In reaching his decision the judge tried to balance the woman's religious beliefs with the court's need to weigh the credibility of witnesses:
In general, the defendant is free to wear the niqab during trial. If the defendant gives evidence she must remove the niqab throughout her evidence. The court may use its inherent powers to do what it can to alleviate any discomfort, for example by allowing the use of screens or allowing her to give evidence by live link.The woman's lawyer is considering appealing the judge's decision.
Niqabs, burqas and other traditional Muslim garments have been a controversial subject. Last week a Quebec official proposed a bill [JURIST report] banning religious headwear for public workers. Belgium officially banned [JURIST report] burqas in July 2011. France's ban on burqas took effect [JURIST report] in April 2011. Some commentators have suggested that the rationales behind the European burqa bans are weak [JURIST op-ed] and that the true purpose of the bills is societal discomfort.