British Minister: Ban Muslim Face Veils in Courts

November 4, 2013  

A British cabinet minister on Sunday called for Muslim face veils worn by women to be banned in courts.

In an interview with BBC Radio, former Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke described the face veils as “peculiar.”

Clarke said in the interview that women should not be allowed to wear a veil while giving evidence in court, explaining that his comments “had no trace of Islamophobia” but adding it was important for the court to be able to see a witness’s body language.

“It’s almost impossible to have a proper trial if one of the persons [is] in a kind of bag,” Clarke said, according to the BBC.

He added that outside a courtroom people should be able to wear “what the devil they like”. In court, however, body language was crucial for judges and jurors and a “clear rule” was needed on veil use, said Clarke.

The minister without portfolio suggested special arrangements could be made in court to screen women from the general public, allowing them to remove veils in relative privacy.

“I don’t see how on earth a judge and a jury can really appraise evidence when you’re facing someone who is cloaked and is completely invisible to you,” he told BBC Radio. “I actually think it undermines a trial.”

Clarke added that the face veil is “a most peculiar costume for people to adopt in the 21st century.”

A judge ruled in September that a woman must remove her veil to give evidence.

Home Secretary Theresa May has previously said women should be free to wear what they wanted, including veils, but there may be some circumstances when it would be necessary to ask for them to be removed.

In September, Judge Peter Murphy ruled in a case at London’s Blackfriars Crown Court that a Muslim woman could stand trial wearing a full-face veil but must remove it to give evidence.

The 22-year-old woman had refused to remove her niqab veil and reveal her face in front of any man.

France outlawed the wearing of a niqab (full face veil) — part of the burqa, or full body covering worn by Muslim women — in public in April 2011. French authorities cited security concerns as the reason for the ban.

France was the first country in Europe to outlaw Muslim headgear that hides the face. A parliamentary committee in Belgium later voted to ban the burqa as well. Italy has also drafted a similar law. 

Canada has passed a law on the issue, requiring Muslim women to remove their face veils if they wish to become Canadian citizens. The woman’s face must be visible during the ceremony conferring Canadian citizenship on her, and for the woman to face the judge administering the oath of citizenship.

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