A young Muslim woman in a burka was told by the judge to take off her face veil, as she took to the dock to enter her plea, because someone could impersonate her. The judge has refused to let a Muslim woman in a full-length burka enter a plea until she showed her face to the court.
Judge Peter Murphy at Blackfriars Crown Court said the principle of open justice overrode the woman’s right to her religious beliefs, but the woman, 21, from Hackney, refused to remove the covering in front of men in the court room, Court News UK reported.
“While I obviously respect the right to dress in any way she wishes, certainly while outside the court, the interests of justice are paramount.
“I can’t, as a circuit judge, accept a plea from a person whose identity I am unable to ascertain.”
He added: “It would be easy for someone on a later occasion to appear and claim to be the defendant.
“The court would have no way to check on that.”
The defendant, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, is facing an allegation of intimidating a witness in Finsbury Park, north London, in June.
Her barrister, Claire Burtwistle, told the court she was not prepared to lower her veil at all while men were in the room.
“In front of women, it is not an issue”, she said. “It is simply men that she will not allow to see her face.”
Ms Burtwistle suggested herself, a female police officer or a female prison guard could identify the defendant and confirm to the court that it is the same person as in the police arrest photos.
Prosecutor Sarah Counsell added that the police officer in charge of the case was content that he recognised the defendant while she was in the burka.
But Judge Murphy rejected the suggestions, saying: “It seems to me to be quite fundamental that the court is sure who it is the court is dealing with.
“Furthermore, this court, as long as I am sitting, has the highest respect for any religious tradition a person has.
“In my courtroom also, this sometimes conflicts with the interests of a paramount need for the administration of justice. In my court room, that’s going to come first.”
He said “the principle of open justice” could not be subject to the religion of the defendant.
“I am not saying this because of the particular form of dress by this defendant”, he added.
“I apply that to any form of dress that had the same issues.”
Judge Murphy adjourned the case for legal argument over whether the defendant should have to remove her veil.
It will be heard again on September 12.