The wearing of the Muslim veil in court has been backed by new official guidelines.
Senior judges who examined whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the full facial covering, known as the niqab, said it should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Muslim women should be permitted to wear the garment providing it did not interfere with the administration of justice, the Judicial Studies Board’s Equal Treatment Advisory Committee said.
The guidance follows a case at an immigration court in Stoke-on-Trent last November where the judge, George Glossop, ordered an adjournment because he was having difficulty hearing legal executive Shabnam Mughal.
The guidelines said: “Each situation should be considered individually in order to find the best solution in each case.”
Forcing a woman to choose between participating in a court case or removing the veil could have a “significant impact on that woman’s sense of dignity”, it added, and could serve to “exclude and marginalise” her.
Committee chairwoman Mrs Justice Cox said: “At the heart of our guidance is the principle that each situation should be considered individually in order to find the best solution in each case.
“We respect the right for Muslim women to choose to wear the niqab as part of their religious beliefs, although the interests of justice remain paramount.
“If a person’s face is almost fully covered, a judge may have to consider if any steps are required to ensure effective participation and a fair hearing – both for the woman wearing a niqab and for other parties in the proceedings.
“This is not an issue that lends itself to a prescriptive approach – we have drawn on a wealth of cases that demonstrate that, and we have drawn up guidance for different court personnel and parties.”
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