A judge has reached a compromise with a woman who refused to remove her full face veil when appearing in court.
The Muslim woman, who denied a charge of witness intimidation, had previously been told by Judge Peter Murphy that she would have to show her face to enter a plea so she could be conclusively identified.
The Londoner, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had argued that she was unable to remove the face covering – called a niqab – in the presence of men for religious reasons.
The same judge today backed down and allowed her to enter the dock to plead not guilty while wearing a niqab after a female police officer, who saw her face when she was photographed after her arrest, had a private viewing with her in a room at Blackfriars Crown Court in London. The officer then swore on oath that it was the same woman.
Judge Murphy said: “I would be satisfied for the officer giving evidence, having seen the defendant backstage so to speak in a private setting, saying she could identify her.”
The judge will give directions on Monday as to whether the woman can stand trial while wearing a veil that shows only her eyes.
The defendant’s barrister, Susan Meek, argued that she had a right to wear the veil during today’s proceedings and her trial in November under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which safeguards religious beliefs. She also highlighted the “tolerant” approach taken to Islamic dress in the UK.
“She is entitled to wear it in private and in public,” Ms Meek said. “That right to wear the niqab also extends to the courtroom. There is no legislation in the UK in respect of the wearing of the niqab. There is no law in this country banning it.”
Prosecutor Kate Wilkinson said the Crown did not oppose the defendant wearing a veil. She also asked whether the woman would be held in contempt if she still refused to show her face and whether a ruling to remove the veil would clash with her right to a fair trial.
Judge Murphy ruled out sitting with a specially chosen all-female jury. He said he would hand down a written direction regarding the trial at the same court on Monday. He said the defendant, who is on bail, would have to attend and be identified in the same way as today.
Update: The Daily Express report of the decision begins: “A judge sparked fury yesterday by allowing a Muslim woman to appear in the dock with her identity shielded by a full-face veil.” But the only person quoted as expressing anger is Philip Hollobone.