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Tuesday, September 17, 2013 

British judge does not allow Muslim convert to testify wearing veil

Some good news now from the UK, in a case involving a defendant in witness intimidation:
A British court on Monday ruled that a Muslim woman facing criminal charges of witness intimidation must remove her face veil while on the stand giving evidence in court, but that she can wear it while sitting in the dock.

The ruling comes amid shifting sentiments in the UK and across Europe about how far to accept some Islamic cultural practices when they clash with a secular state.

Judge Peter Murphy, of the Blackfriars Crown Court in south London, ruled it is “crucial” for jurors to see the face of the 22-year-old woman when she testifies in her trial on charges of intimidating a witness at a London mosque in June.

The unnamed woman, who converted to Islam and started wearing the head-to-toe covering known as a niqab or full veil last year, wore a niqab last week when she pleaded not guilty to charges against her. But her plea came after the arresting female police officer identified her in a separate room. (British laws restrict publication of details of an ongoing criminal trial).

“There is a pressing need for a court to provide a clear statement of the powers trial judges have to deal with cases where a woman wearing a niqab attends the court,” Judge Murphy said. “The niqab has become the elephant in the courtroom.”

“Given the ever-increasing diversity of society in England and Wales, this is a question which may be expected to arise more and more frequently and to which an answer must be provided,” he said.

London has a generally free atmosphere for religious behavior and dress, and more women from an orthodox background are seen wearing a full length veil than in most European cities.

Yet the circumstances of a British defendant facing criminal charges who claims that religious accommodation rights trump the rights of the state court – appeared to go too far for Judge Murphy.

“No tradition or practice, whether religious or otherwise, can claim to occupy such a privileged position that the rule of law, open justice and the adversarial trial process are sacrificed to accommodate it,” he stated. “That is not discrimination against religion, it is a matter of upholding the rule of law in a democratic society.”
I congratulate the judge for his perceptive approach to the issue. That's a definite plus in a country where multiculturalism has gone overboard, and niqabs are more noticeable than in other parts of the continent. But how much longer will men of sanity like him be able to make these vital points? Unless the UK's population is going to wake up, ditto the politicians, it could all one day get to the point where the legal system will become a kangaroo court.

Update: The UK Telegraph has more about these issues.

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