Veiled in court: Judge orders woman to uncover before jury
A Muslim woman will be able to stand trial while wearing a niqab, but must remove it when giving evidence, a judge has ruled.
Judge Peter Murphy ruled that the woman, who is standing trial for allegedly intimidating a witness, will be shielded by a screen from public view while giving evidence but that she must be visible to himself, the jury and lawyers.
"The ability of the jury to see the defendant for the purposes of evaluating her evidence is crucial," he said.
The judge added that he hoped "parliament or a higher court will provide a definite answer to the issue soon.
"If judges in different cases in different places took differing approaches [to the niqab] the result would be judicial anarchy."
The 22-year-old woman has only worn the niqab, which covers all of the face apart from the eyes, since May 2012, but the judge said his decision would have been the same regardless of how long she had worn it.
The move may be challenged in an appeal by the woman's legal team.
On the other side of the debate, the National Secular Society said it regretted the judge's decision.
"We will be complaining to the Office of Judicial Complaints and also be asking senior legal officers to make visibility throughout court hearings mandatory, and not subject to judges' discretion," executive director Keith Porteous Wood said.
"I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion," he told the Telegraph.
"But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married."
"We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression."
The woman's trial beings at Blackfriars Crown Court on November 4th.