In a display of respect for common sense and legal tradition that has become all too rare, a British court on Monday ruled that a Muslim woman will not be allowed to testify in a criminal case while concealed behind a full-face veil.
The woman, who is facing charges of intimidating a witness in a separate case, had sought to testify while wearing a veil that would hide her face. She cited religious beliefs – that harken all the way back to 2012, when she began wearing the full veil known as a niqab – that forbid her face from being seen by any man who is not a close family member.
The judge declared he was having none of it, according to Reuters.
“The niqab has become the elephant in the courtroom,” Judge Peter Murphy ruled.
“No tradition or practice, whether religious or otherwise, can claim to occupy such a privileged position that the rule of law, open justice and the adversarial trial process are sacrificed to accommodate it.”
With unusual frankness – and distinctly British imagery – Murphy said allowing a witness to testify without allowing jurors to observe her facial expressions would “drive a coach and horses through the way in which justice has been administered in the courts of England and Wales for centuries.”
Muslim garb, particularly face-concealing clothing for women, has been a legal issue throughout Western Europe with its large immigrant population, and in the United States, with Muslim activists groups demanding legal institutions and jails bend to accommodate different religions.
Murphy’s reasoning would be a good place to start to address the question.
“That is not a discrimination against religion,” he ruled. “It is a matter of upholding the rule of law in a democratic society.”
The Taliban would probably disagree.