December 10 2013 Latest news:
Monday, September 16, 2013
A judge will decide today whether a Muslim woman accused of intimidation should be allowed to stand trial while wearing a full-face veil.
Judge Peter Murphy is due to hand down written directions about whether the defendant, who says it is against her religious beliefs to show her face in public, will have to allow the jury and other people in court see her.
The 22-year-old from London, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, entered a not guilty plea to a charge of intimidation last week while wearing a niqab after the judge backed down from a previous decision that she would have to show her face to be properly identified.
Her barrister Susan Meek argued it would breach her human rights and be counter to Britain’s tolerance of Islamic dress to remove her veil against her wishes when she stands trial at Blackfriars Crown Court.
The case has divided some human rights specialists.
James Welch, legal director of Liberty, said last week that the judge had been right to accept a plea from the woman while wearing a veil, delivering a “common-sense ruling that delivers both necessary identification and respect for the convictions of the defendant”.
“These matters require balance and ongoing discretion, but the UK has a long history of tolerance and is capable of setting an important example to others in Europe and beyond,” he added.
But veteran human rights barrister John Cooper QC told the Sunday Telegraph yesterday that the woman should be told to remove her veil so the jury could see her face during evidence.
He told the paper: “I am of the opinion that the veil in a contested trial should be removed. A jury needs to not only listen to the evidence but see how it is delivered.
“This would set an unfortunate, dangerous precedent if this woman is allowed to hide her face from the jury.”
Judge Murphy allowed the woman to enter the dock last Thursday after she had been identified in a private room by a female police officer.
The Metropolitan Police constable, who was present when the defendant was photographed following her arrest in June, then swore on oath that it was the same woman under the niqab in the dock.
The only part of her face that was visible was a narrow horizontal stripe showing her eyes.