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Judge rules Muslim woman must remove Niqaab when giving evidence to the Court

The Crown Court in England has ruled that a Muslim woman, a defendant in criminal proceedings, must remove her Niqaab, a full veil, when giving her evidence to the Court and the jury.

The defendant faces criminal allegations of intimidating a witness. Due to her religious beliefs she wears a Niqaab that covers her face except for her eyes. The Judge, His Honour Judge Murphy, asked her to remove the veil, so she could be identified. She refused to comply with the request on religious grounds. The Judge then held a preliminary hearing to decide what orders should be made in relation to the case.

The Judge made clear that his decision on this matter was limited to the specific case in a number of different ways. He considered the balance between the freedom of expression, the importance of ensuring a fair trial for all parties and the effective administration of justice. In light of all these circumstances, the Judge made directions in the following terms:

(1) The defendant must comply with all directions given by the Court to enable her to be properly identified at all stages of the proceedings.

(2) The defendant is free to wear the niqaab during trial, except while giving evidence.

(3) The defendant may not give evidence wearing the niqaab.

(4) The defendant may give evidence from behind a screen shielding her from public view, but not from the view of the judge, the jury, and counsel; or by means of a live TV link.

(5) Photographs and filming are never permitted in court. But in this case, the judge also ordered that no drawing, sketch or other image of any kind of the defendant while her face is uncovered is to be made in court, or disseminated, or published outside court.

This is a matter that has attracted significant attention amongst legal commentators. The UK Human Rights Blog has published articles that can be found here and here, and Joshua Rozenberg has written an article for The Guardian.

Criminal Law