Proposed tightening of Danish Burqa law meets severe criticism

Minister of Justice, Lars Barfod, has put forward a bill which will increase the penalty from two to four years of imprisonment for people who force other persons to wear the niqab or burqa. In a hearing the bill has been met with severe criticism from the Association of Danish Judges, the Association of Danish Defense Attorneys as well as the Danish Police Union. To date the existing law has not been used to convict anyone of forcing other people to wear the niqab or burqa and in the hearing about the bill the Association of Danish Judges says the bill is of “purely political character”, the Association of Defense Attorneys finds the bill “motivated by a wish to demonstrate distance to foreign cultures” given that “there seem to no unbiased reasons for regulating the jurisdiction by law”. The Danish Police Union has also misgivings about the bill because it will “force the police to focus on a specific section of the population which will probably increase the risk of confrontations” the Police Union says.

Another point of criticism of the bill is that it forbids witnesses in courts to wear clothing that covers the face. The purpose is that the court has to be certain of the identity of a witness but the Association of Danish Judges finds the formulation of the bill problematic: “In today’s courts it is more often sunglasses and caps the judges must ask witnesses not to wear rather than it is burqas or niqabs”. In the hearing about the bill the Association of Danish Judges has sarcastically questioned whether sunglasses can be termed as clothing. The Ministry of Justice has taken this comment into account in the formulation of the bill that has been put forward.

So far the Minister of Justice has not given any argument for the bill other than that it is a follow-up on the government’s burqa-commission which published its report two months ago. The commission found that only three women in Denmark wear burqa.