Right to wear veil down to judge, says JSB

The Judicial Studies Board (JSB) has published new guidelines on whether the wearing of the full veil by Muslim women in court should be allowed.

The JSB’s Equal Treatment Advisory Committee (Etac) guidance effectively leaves the decision up to the discretion of the judge.

Mrs Justice Cox, chairman of Etac, said that at the heart of the guidance was the principle that each situation should be considered individually in order to find the best solution in each case.

“We respect the right for Muslim women to choose to wear the niqab as part of their religious beliefs, although the interests of justice remain paramount,” said Cox, J.

Muslim women who are called to jury service and wish to wear the veil, known as a niqab, could find their presence on the jury challenged by the prosecution or defendant’s lawyers.

The judge, if satisfied that there is a genuine basis for a challenge, can consider excusing her, on the proviso that she may serve on another jury where no challenge is made.

For the victims, complainants, witnesses and defendants, the JSB committee believes that in the interests of justice it should be possible for evidence to be given while wearing a veil or for the woman to agree to remove it while giving evidence.

Other measures are available to the court, such as screens, video-links, clearing the public gallery can also be considered by the judge.

In relation to advocates a judge will, once again, need to consider whether the niqab interferes with the interests of justice as the lawyer’s face cannot be seen or be heard clearly.