A judge who earlier in the month refused to allow a Muslim woman to wear her veil which covered the whole of her face has now made a compromise allowing the woman to wear it apart from times where she is giving evidence to the court. The compromise ruling made by Judge Peter Murphy is a first and has set a precedent on the wearing of a niqab in court during criminal proceedings.
The woman in question who has been named as only D in the case has pleaded as not guilty to accusations of witness intimidation while wearing the religious veil. She said that it is contrary to her religious beliefs to show her face to the public and so the judge made special arrangements which involve screening her from public view when she is asked to reveal her face during the proceedings.
The trial which is set to take place in November at Blackfriars crown court includes directions which will ban court room artists from drawing or sketching the defendant when she is not wearing her niqab. The only people who will be permitted to look at the woman’s face are the jury, legal counsel as well as the judge only when she is giving evidence.
The judge who accepted submissions both from the defence and the prosecutor stated that there was not clear precedent in existence which would bring a resolution to the matter. The judge commented at the uncertainty and reluctance to deal with the issue by saying that the religious veil had become “the elephant in the courtroom”. He took a stance on the religious garment by saying that women had a choice whether or not to wear the veil but this choice should nevertheless be respected by the judiciary as is the persons religious belief.
The issue in the circumstance which the judge had to address was striking a balance between the defendant’s right to a religious belief as protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the public interest which is involved in criminal cases. In the judgement it was made clear that the court has the right to impose restrictions on religious freedoms which are deemed to be necessary as was done by the European Court of Human Rights when they upheld a judgement banning a worker from wearing a cross at her place of employment on health and safety grounds.