Lifting the Veil
September 17, 2013 10:44 AM   Subscribe

A judge in the UK has ruled that a Muslim woman can stand trial wearing the niqab, but must remove it when giving evidence. Following the ruling Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, praised the judge for his "sensitivity and clarity", while Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society condemned the decision, saying "We will be complaining to the Office of Judicial Complaints and...asking senior legal officers to make visibility throughout court hearings mandatory".

As Liberal Democrat MP Jeremy Browne calls for a debate on whether women should be allowed to wear veils in public, and Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston calls the issue a "wake-up call for feminism", three leading Muslim women give their view.

"Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, is...unenthusiastic about the national debate idea. 'What does need to happen,' she says, 'is an internal debate within Muslim communities'".
posted by billiebee (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think this is a brilliant compromise by Judge Peter Murphy - one that should piss off "both sides" equally. Your face will be visible when the law requires your actual identity to be unambiguous, and can be kept covered the rest of the time. Logical, compassionate, practical.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:59 AM on September 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


The judgment explained.

I think it is important that people do show their faces on trial in court so yay. This feels a little like the religious exemption from new motorcycle helmet laws that turban-wearing Sikhs won in 1976 in the UK.

Admittedly I don't spend a lot of time in Southall, but I don't think I've ever seen a turban-wearing Sikh on a motorbike outside my trips to India. By the same token, niqab-wearing criminals are unlikely to flood British courts any time soon.

I think people fight against these rare exemption partly because they see them as thin end of the wedge cases. But they're not.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:01 AM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


The blurring of the issue between face coverings in court and face coverings in public is unfortunate. The former needs to be discussed, the latter is not an issue for a liberal democracy. It is nobody else's business what you wear on the street.
posted by Thing at 11:02 AM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I like this compromise.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:06 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


... the latter is not an issue for a liberal democracy. It is nobody else's business what you wear on the street.

When we're discussing philosophy, you're right. In practice, it's not that simple. If someone wears something supremely offensive, that becomes everyone's business. Wearing a swastika t-shirt, for example, is repugnant by American standards but offensive to the point of illegality in Germany. And the US isn't effectively more free than Germany in the broad sense.

Unfortunately, 'supremely offensive' doesn't have a hard metric, and outsiders who don't share the assessment ALWAYS see a response as overreaction. By your reckoning and mine, wearing a veil isn't something that should be interfered with. But Liberal Democracy is more of a Platonic ideal that some states aspire to than a club that some of them are in.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:17 AM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is essentially the position that Canada has taken. The Supreme Court, last year, issued a pretty useless 4-part test and left it to the lower courts to decide, case-by-case.

That decision.*

When it went back to a lower court, if I remember right the judge suggested that the woman testify by closed-circuit tv, veil off. Defence was fine with it, but her lawyers wouldn't accept it. So she ended up having to remove it to testify. News coverage. At least, I assume that was the only time she had to remove it - I don't know if there was ever a fight about times she wasn't testifying, because yeah who cares?

Now that case is different in that the Canadian woman wasn't standing trial, but it does't really change anything.

And the best part of this compromise, to me, isn't in the FPP but is in the BBC article:

"The judge said he would offer the woman a screen to shield her from public view while giving evidence but that she had to be seen by him, the jury and lawyers."

There is no benefit to the system/public/etc for her to be seen unveiled by the public. Good on Judge Murphy!

* if you care, the 4-part test they put up is:
1. Does forcing the removal interfere with her religious freedom? Essentially, is she sincere in her beliefs?
2. Would letting it remain have a serious risk to the fairness of the trial? Essentially, is there going to be contested evidence? If not, what's the harm?
3. Can we accommodate and avoid the problem altogether?
4. If not #3, is the benefit of forcing removal worth the downsides? And downsides specifically include chilling effects stopping niqab'd women from participating in the justice system.
Very nice in theory...not that helpful in practice. A perfect Supreme Court decision!

posted by Lemurrhea at 11:18 AM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think this is a brilliant compromise by Judge Peter Murphy - one that should piss off "both sides" equally. Your face will be visible when the law requires your actual identity to be unambiguous, and can be kept covered the rest of the time. Logical, compassionate, practical.

Is this really an issue for "both sides," or possibly a European (specifically France and the UK) thing? There may be people upset with the what veils represent, but apart from the loonies, I don't see a lot of people arguing they should be made illegal.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:22 AM on September 17, 2013


Also: the ED of the National Secular Society, as quoted in the FPP: "We will be complaining to the Office of Judicial Complaints"

Ha!

My understanding of the OJC is that it acts as the regulatory body for judges. So when you have judges calling people by racist/sexist/etc slurs, you go there. When you have judges trying to blackmail/coerce people, you go there. Unprofessional conduct of any sort, you go there.

Having a judge rule on a matter of their court's procedure, on a subject that multiple other countries' courts have been struggling with, that the country-as-a-whole has been debating, that is a frankly complicated debate getting to tension between fundamental aspects of the legal system (equality vs fairness), and thinking it was not correctly made?

That will get a form letter saying "we are looking into it", commiseration by the OJC with the judge in question ("we all knew you'd get a complaint no matter which way you went....we've all already read your decision, don't worry"), and then a form letter saying "no merit, dismissed".

Keith Wood should know that.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:28 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quite amusing that an advocate for secularism is in effect complaining about the independence of the judiciary.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:31 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do Taliban and devout Muslim societies really have no mechanism or expectation for any authority to ever be able to see the face of a woman under trial? I would have guessed that this kind of judgement-passing situation might be given some kind of "extended-family/elder" hand-waving waiver or something that could apply in courtrooms in general, but apparently not.
(The cynic in me also wonders if never seeing someone's face makes it more likely to hand down a stoning.)
posted by anonymisc at 11:37 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is nobody else's business what you wear on the street.

Some US states and localities forbid the wearing of masks or hoods (except for traditional celebrations and safety). Because Klan.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:25 PM on September 17, 2013


It is nobody else's business what you wear on the street.

According to Blackfriars Crown Court in London, but different countries have different laws and bills of rights. Something that might seem like a no-brainer in the US may not be a no-brainer in a different country.

Interestingly, Quebec's recent proposed Charter of Values appears to be on shaky ground, contravening even Quebec’s own Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:34 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is nobody else's business what you wear on the street.

Even when wearing a birthday suit?
posted by Mister Bijou at 12:52 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


See: the Naked Rambler
posted by KokuRyu at 12:57 PM on September 17, 2013


I'm not used to people invoking feminism (as Sarah Wollaston does) to attempt to force a style of dress on women. It looks pretty ugly, to be honest.

What I'm failing to notice in these debates is discussion of forbidding Amish women from wearing bonnets. When will this be part of the international debate on appropriate and allowed head-wear for women?

Or is this what they call concern trolling?
posted by el io at 1:04 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Stephen Gough. I have lost count of how many times he has been arrested. A prisoner of conscience, he has already clocked up six years in prison. Now he's down for another 11 months.
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:06 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


His case seems to be more contempt of court than nudity.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:14 PM on September 17, 2013


His case seems to be more contempt of court than nudity.

The court orders him not to appear in the nude in public. He refuses to conform with the order of the court. Thus, because of his nudity, he is in contempt of court.
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:22 PM on September 17, 2013


This bothers me a lot. And I am someone who does not like the niqab one bit.

The thing is, this ruling infringes directly on her religious beliefs. She has a right to practice her religion. And, she's the defendant. So it also forces her to choose between her right to testify and her religious belief.

I hope he is reversed, should she be convicted.
posted by bearwife at 1:24 PM on September 17, 2013


Presumably women who choose to wear the niqab in Western societies are comfortable with wearing the niqab.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:43 PM on September 17, 2013


Religion is not a free pass to disobey the law.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:04 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Folks, if you can't have this discussion without slagging on religion you're welcome to not participate. There is a long active MeTa thread on the topic currently.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:12 PM on September 17, 2013


Let's try this again... I applaud the judge for the solution he has arrived at. It respects the defendant's religious belief but also enables the defendant to literally face the court.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:27 PM on September 17, 2013


I think this is a fine ruling and one that is consistent with what has been done historically in Islamic societies and in contemporary predominately Muslim societies. Women who choose to wear a face-veil (distinct from just wearing a hijab) remove their face veil in court.
posted by mulligan at 3:24 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first paragraph of Sarah Wollaston's article:
This past month should be a wake-up call for feminism. Birmingham Metropolitan College has lifted the ban on students wearing the niqab and Blackfriars Crown Court has similarly allowed a defendant to give evidence whilst fully veiled.
Have I misunderstood something there, or is the dramatic opening to her article... er... not well grounded in reality?
posted by metaBugs at 4:33 PM on September 17, 2013




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