Lawyers ‘can wear veils in court’

Legal advisers and solicitors may wear the Islamic veil in court unless it interferes with the “interests of justice”, judges have been told. The judiciary were told to use their discretion to interpret the temporary guidance, which covers all courts.

The advice was issued by immigration tribunals chief Mr Justice Hodge after a case had to be halted when a legal adviser refused to remove her veil. The Lord Chief Justice said full rules on the veils issue were being drawn up.

Earlier this week it emerged legal adviser Shabnam Mughal had refused to remove her headwear during an immigration tribunal in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. She had been asked to do so by Judge George Glossop, who said he could not hear her properly.

Eventually Judge Glossop adjourned the hearing to seek advice from president of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) Mr Justice Hodge. It is understood the hearing will now go ahead next week with a different judge presiding.

The case followed weeks of controversy over the wearing of Muslim veils. Last month teaching assistant Aishah Azmi, 23, lost an employment tribunal case after being suspended from her position at a school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, for refusing to remove her veil in class.

Issuing the interim guidance on Thursday, Mr Justice Hodge said: “Immigration judges must exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis where a representative wishes to wear a veil. The presumption is that if a representative before an AIT tribunal wishes to wear a veil, has the agreement of his or her client and can be heard reasonably clearly by all parties to the proceedings, then the representative should be allowed to do so.

“If a judge or other party to the proceedings is unable to hear the representative clearly then the interests of justice are not served and other arrangements will need to be made. Such arrangements will vary from case to case, subject to judicial discretion and the interests of all parties.”

The guidance applies to all courts.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers said he had asked the equal treatment advisory committee of the Judicial Studies Board to develop detailed guidance on the use of veils by all people involved in court cases – including the parties, legal representatives, witnesses, jurors and magistrates.

BBC News, 10 November 2006