Judge warns jury of wrongful prejudice over defendant’s Muslim face veil

A judge warned a jury on Wednesday that it was wrong to be prejudiced against anyone because of their expression of religious faith, as a Muslim defendant prepared to go on trial wearing a full face veil. The judge, Peter Murphy, said Rebekah Dawson, 22, was fully entitled to dress as she chose, and that the jury trying her case for alleged witness intimidation had to put aside any personal feelings they might have on the issue.

“I am sure you will have noticed that the defendant Rebekah Dawson is wearing a full face veil – it hides her face apart from a narrow slit for the eyes,” he told the jury at Blackfriars crown court, London. “Let me begin by saying that in this country everyone is entitled to express any religious view they wish, or to hold no religious view. Also, we are entitled to express any religious view we may have in any way that we choose – that includes wearing a form of dress which a person may consider to be appropriate.”

He added: “It would be quite wrong to be prejudiced against anybody because of their expression of their religious faith. It is very important you understand that.” He continued later: “I emphasise that Rebekah Dawson is fully entitled to dress in any way she chooses. If you have any feelings about that put them aside because they have nothing to do with the case.”

Murphy was speaking as he upheld a ruling he gave last September that Dawson could stand trial wearing a full face veil but had to remove it while giving evidence.

He told the jury that he had ruled that if she chose to give evidence she had to remove her veil. “I have not done that arbitrarily, I have done this because of this – that courts have known for many, many, years, indeed centuries, that when a jury is evaluating evidence a witness gives it is important for them to see the witness as well as listening. In other words, you have to see the demeanour of the witness and reactions to the questions being asked.”

Dawson, formerly of Stroud Green, north London, is due to stand trial alongside her brother, Matthias Dawson, 32, of Sydenham, south-east London, on a single charge of witness intimidation. The prosecution case is expected to open on Wednesday afternoon.

Press Association, 22 January 2014