Tuesday, September 17, 2013
May a defendant in a crminal case wear a niqab, a full face veil, to testify? That's the question a UK judge answered largely in the negative, although making some accomodations in his opinion in Queen v. D.
Recall that the U.K. does not have a First Amendment free exercise of religion- - - as Judge Murphy explains in his opinion:
The jurisdiction of England and Wales is essentially (though not formally) a secular democracy. I recognise that the jurisdiction is in the rather odd position that part of it (England) has an established church, while the other part (Wales) does not. But in neither part does the church interfere with the working of the courts.
Indeed, as a BBC analysis notes about the case in "The Crown Court at Blackfriars," "faith has long been part of the fabric of the state - so much so that the court at the heart of the veil case is named after a medieval religious order."
Nevertheless, the UK is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 9, section 2 of which provides:
Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The judge balanced the freedom to manifest religion against the interests of public order (and fair trial), finding that the defendant must remove her niqab in order to testify, although she need not testify in open court and her image would not be disseminated.
For further analysis of the case, see Dressing Constitutionally Blog here.