Schoolgirl loses court battle to wear niqab

A girl aged 12 yesterday lost her bid to be allowed to wear the niqab in class when the high court supported her school’s decision to ban the full-face Muslim veil.

Lawyers for the girl, known in court as X, had argued the Buckinghamshire school’s actions were irrational and infringed her human rights, because it had allowed her three elder sisters to wear the niqab for nine years.

Mr Justice Silber found the veil ban was “proportionate” for identification reasons and because the niqab could jeopardise communication between teacher and pupil. He also accepted the importance of enforcing a school uniform under which girls of different faiths would have a sense of equality and identity within the school’s “ethos”, and the need to avoid peer pressure on other girls to take up the veil.

Last September, when X began wearing the niqab after reaching puberty, she was told it was unacceptable, because teachers felt it would make learning and communication difficult. During the hearing, the judge was told the girl’s sisters all played an active role in the school, that staff had not objected to their niqabs, and that they had achieved high A-level results, disproving the learning impairment argument.

But the court heard they left school some time ago, and since then security concerns had heightened. Of 120 Muslim girls in the 1,300-pupil school, half wear a headscarf or hijab but none wears a niqab.

Lawyers for X, protected by an anonymity order, argued the ban thwarted her “legitimate expectation” she would wear the niqab, and breached her freedom of “thought, conscience and religion” under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The lawyers said last night she and her family were “bitterly disappointed” and considering an appeal.

Guardian, 22 February 2007

See also BBC News, 21 February 2007

Hardly a surprising judgement, given Mr Justice Silber’s earlier comments.