Ontario Superior Court judge told that justice “cannot be veiled”

Permitting alleged victims or any witness to wear a veil while testifying would fundamentally change core principles in the Canadian justice system, an Ontario Superior Court judge was told yesterday. Defense lawyer Jack Pinkofsky claimed that, “The face of justice cannot be faceless.” Superior Court Justice Frank Marrocco has been asked to decide whether an alleged victim in a sexual-assault case in Toronto will be permitted to testify while wearing her niqab.

The provincial court judge presiding over the preliminary hearing of the two defendants ruled last fall that the woman’s religious beliefs were not that strong and ordered her to remove the veil. She refused and was granted the right to appeal the decision to the Superior Court. The Criminal Code permits witnesses such as alleged sexual-assault victims or children to testify by video or behind a one-way screen. In both situations, the defense lawyer and accused can see the witness. The woman’s lawyer explained that this would not be acceptable for his client because men could see her without the veil. The hearing is set to continue on April 3.

Niqab ban extended to colleges

Dutch Education Minister Ronald Plasterk confirmed extending a proposed ban on the face veil – also known as the niqab – from schools and universities, and the ban applying to students, teachers, and service providers. “It will forbid any kind of garment that covers the face. The intention is to ensure that all people who communicate with each other are able to look each other in the eye, to see each other’s faces,” said the minister.

The ban would apply to all women who enter the gates of such educational institutions. Presently, all schools could make their own decisions regarding the face veil.

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Burqas Banned in French Classes for Immigrants

In two recent legal decisions, head-to-toe burqas have been banned from state-sponsored French language classes. Louis Schweitzer, the head of France’s anti-discrimination agency told La Croix daily that “Religious freedom is not absolute” and they authorities have sought “the most reasonable compromise.” His agency known as Halde ruled last month to ban burqa and niqab from state-sponsored French language classes for immigrants. Halde called the burqa a symbol of “female submission that goes beyond its religious meaning.” Under French law, these classes may be required for application for residency or citizenship in the country.

Earlier in the year, a national agency responsible for such classes complained that the presence of burqa-wearing women “hinders the proper functioning” of such classes.

Limits on the headscarf are not uniform. On October 8 An appeals court fined the owner of a bed and breakfast in the northeastern city of Nancy $6,000 for refusing to welcome two veiled women.

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Exploring the Status of Muslim Women in Europe: British Warn of Growing Female Islamic Radicalism

British authorities are warning that a form of militant Islamist feminism is beginning to emerge, and that some Muslim women could begin to pose a security threat. Officials say the great majority of Muslims, men and women, espouse moderate views. But there is growing concern over an Islamic reawakening among women that could further widen the divide between large sectors of Muslims and mainstream British society. ‘The Lyrical Terrorist’ In October, Britain’s Channel 4 TV network broadcast a thriller about a brother and sister, British-born Muslims, pulled in opposite directions. Unexpectedly, it’s the woman in the story who breaks with the system and becomes radicalized by the anti-terrorism laws that many Muslims consider draconian. Nasima, the sister, is a secular political activist, who embraces the cause of jihad and becomes a suicide bomber. But that was just fiction. A few days later, this is what Britons heard on the news: “A former worker at Heathrow airport who called herself the lyrical terrorist has become the first woman in the country to be convicted under new terrorism laws. Twenty-three-year-old Samina Malik was found guilty of possessing records likely to be used in an act of terrorism.” The materials included an al-Qaida manual, a booklet on mujahedeen poisons and bomb-making instructions. Britain is being confronted with a wave of enigmas – the increasing number of British Muslim women who have taken to wearing not just the headscarf, but the full face veil known as the niqab. This Islamic reawakening comes at a time when the British government is trying to enlist Muslim women in an effort to combat extremism. It has created the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group to give Muslim women a greater voice in British society. But writer and researcher Munira Mirza says many young Muslim women are starting to embrace radical ideals and even to support al-Qaida. Sylvia Poggioli reports.

Cherie Blair criticises the veil

Cherie Blair has criticised Muslim religious dress for women under situations where they it is not _freely undertaken” and where it fails to acknowledge “the woman’s right to be a person”. A practising Roman Catholic and wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, she warned against the full-face veil (niqab) worn by strictly Islamic women worldwide because it could prevent a woman from expressing her personality.http://themuslimweekly.com/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=4E359C49CA5A791ABA889D06&MENUID=HOMENEWS&DESCRIPTION=UK%20News

Niqab in court

Sir, The Judicial Studies Board has added to what it calls the Equal Treatment Bench Book guidance to judges and others on wearing in court the Muslim niqab, which involves the full covering of the woman’s face (Court veil approval, April 25 ). The guidance says (oddly) that to ask for the removal of this veil would likely serve to exclude and marginalise further women with limited visibility in courts and tribunals. The guidance says that if the veil is required to be removed the woman’s discomfiture may be lessened by clearing the public gallery, and asks for the court to be cleared of anyone other than those strictly involved with the case. This advice is of doubtful legality, since it contravenes the open court rule laid down in Scott v Scott (1913), where Lord Halsbury said every court of justice is open to every subject of the King. The advice is likely to cause resentment among members of the public affected. I suggest it should be withdrawn. FRANCIS BENNION Former parliamentary counsel; author of Statutory Interpretation Budleigh Salterton, Devon

Muslim veils ‘should be allowed in court’

The wearing of the Muslim veil in court was backed by new official guidelines today. Senior judges who examined whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the full facial covering, known as the niqab, said it should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Muslim women should be permitted to wear the garment providing it did not interfere with the administration of justice, the Judicial Studies Board’s Equal Treatment Advisory Committee said. The guidance follows a case at an immigration court in Stoke-on-Trent last November where the judge, George Glossop, ordered an adjournment because he was having difficulty hearing legal executive Shabnam Mughal. The guidelines said: Each situation should be considered individually in order to find the best solution in each case. Forcing a woman to choose between participating in a court case or removing the veil could have a significant impact on that woman’s sense of dignity, it added, and could serve to exclude and marginalise her. Committee chairwoman Mrs Justice Cox said: At the heart of our guidance is 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. If a person’s face is almost fully covered, a judge may have to consider if any steps are required to ensure effective participation and a fair hearing – both for the woman wearing a niqab and for other parties in the proceedings. This is not an issue that lends itself to a prescriptive approach – we have drawn on a wealth of cases that demonstrate that, and we have drawn up guidance for different court personnel and parties. If the wearer is appearing as a victim, it should not be automatically assumed that the niqab would create a problem, the guidelines said. Nor should it ever be assumed without good reason that it is inappropriate for a woman to give evidence in court wearing the full veil, it added. If a judge felt it necessary to ask a victim to remove her veil, he or she should consider the request carefully, and be thoughtful and sensitive. The courtroom could even be cleared of anyone not directly involved in the case for her to proceed with her evidence, it said. Asking a witness or defendant to remove the garment may be appropriate but careful thought should be given to any such request, the guidelines said. Regarding a Muslim woman appearing as a barrister, solicitor or other advocate, judges should assume they are entitled to wear the veil, it went on. There are few instances where an advocate or representative appearing in a niqab would be likely to present any real issue, it said. Just as in any case where a judge might have difficulty in hearing any party, witness or advocate, sensitively inquiring whether they can speak any louder or providing other means of amplification should suffice and such measures should be considered with the advocate before asking her to remove her veil. Regarding jurors in niqabs, a judge may wish to consider excusing her if a challenge is made by one of the parties, it said, providing there is a genuine basis for the objection. The guidelines come after widespread concern over the wearing of the niqab in schools – by both children and staff – as well as in other areas. In February, a 12-year-old Muslim girl who wanted to wear a full-face veil in class lost her legal battle when a High Court judge dismissed a challenge to her school’s uniform policy. Mr Justice Silber rejected her claim that the school in Buckinghamshire had interfered with her right to freedom of religion under the Human Rights Convention.

The Supreme Court against wearing a full veil at school

On February 22 the Supreme Court decided in favor of a school that had expelled a 12-year-old Muslim student who exercized her right to wear the niqab, the full face veil, during class. In other news, in the trial of those accused of the July 21, 2005 attacks in London, a surveillance video showed that one of them was disguised, hidden in an islamic robe.

Full-face veil ’caused pupil mix-up’

A new headteacher who noted that one of her sixth form girls was wearing a Muslim full-face veil did not realise there were two of them – because she did not see them together. In evidence to the High Court, the headteacher said that, although she considered the niqab veil was a breach of uniform policy, she decided that “the girl” should be allowed to continue wearing it because the previous head had permitted it. “I did not, in fact, realise that there was a second girl (her sister), also in the sixth form, who also dressed in an identical, full jilbab (long dress) and niqab because I never saw them together,” she said. The girls eventually left the Buckinghamshire school and it was not until their younger sister became a pupil and also started wearing the veil that the updated uniform policy was enforced. She and her parents were told the niqab was not acceptable. That decision is now under challenge in court. Mr Justice Silber is being asked by the 12-year-old and her father to rule the ban on her wearing the niqab was irrational, in the light of the way her sisters’ wishes had been accommodated, and in breach of her human right to freedom of “thought, conscience and religion”. For legal reasons, neither the girl, referred to as X, nor the school, a top girls’ grammar, nor its headteacher can be identified. The niqab veil covers all of the face except the eyes. About 120 of the school’s 1,300-plus pupils are Muslims, and up to 60 of them wear the hijab headscarf. X is the only pupil demanding the right to wear the full-face veil when men are likely to be present. The girl is attending a different school which permits the niqab, but she wants to go back to the grammar. The headteacher, who took over at the school in September 2002, stated: “I believe that if the niqab becomes an accepted part of school uniform attire there may well be pressure brought to bear on other Muslim girls to wear one, either from the children’s families or from their friends at school.” For a girl to conceal her face was contrary to the ethos of the school. “As a girls’ school for over 100 years, we are very conscious of our duty to educate girls to regard themselves as equals to men and to gain the self-confidence to live and work in British and international society on the same level as men,” she said. She pointed out that being able to see facial expressions was a key component of effective classroom interaction; for instance, was a pupil paying attention or distressed or enthusiastic? An assessment made of X in the light of her shy, quiet and reserved manner emphasised the need for her to be able to communicate freely with her teachers and peers. The headteacher also spoke of her duty to ensure the safety of her pupils. “If a stranger is on site, then it is simple to approach and ask them (about) their business. “However, if pupils wore the niqab, then identifying those on site becomes difficult and it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for an unwelcome person wishing to move incognito to wear a niqab herself. “Of course it would be very difficult for a male teacher to challenge somebody wearing a niqab as the very reason it is being worn is to avoid being seen by the opposite sex.” The headteacher stressed that X had not been excluded from the school, which wanted her to return. She had been kept from school either at her own request or on instruction of her parents. An alternative school – Burnham Grammar, 12 miles from the girl’s home, where the niqab was allowed – was able to offer her a place. Transport would be provided. The girl’s lawyers argue that the niqab is simply an addition to school uniform – like a skullcap or turban – and that, in an emergency, a girl would simply remove it and show her face. The judge reserved judgment to a later date.