Source: The Telegraph
Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, says that judges should show respect toward different cultures
Judges should allow Muslim women to appear in court wearing a full-face veil, Britain’s most senior judge has suggested.
Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, said it was crucial that courts and judges “show, and be seen to show” respect towards different customs.
He said this included having an understanding of the “different cultural and social habits” of those appearing as witnesses, defendants or jurors in cases.
His comments, in a lecture about the need for courts to be less intimidating, come at a time of uncertainty over the place of the Muslim niqab, or full face-veil, in the legal system.
In 2013 the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, said there was a need for clear guidance on the issue following controversy over the trial at London’s Blackfriars Crown Court of a Muslim woman accused of witness intimidation.
Rebekah Dawson was told that she would be forced to take off her full-face veil if she gave evidence, which she declined to do. She was later jailed for six months after changing her plea to guilty.
In his address to the Criminal Justice Alliance, Lord Neuberger said judges and lawyers often failed to recognise how “artificial and intimidating” courts could be for ordinary people, adding: “I sometimes wonder whether our trial procedures really are the best way of getting at the truth.”
He continued: “Would you feel that you had given of your best if you had been forced to give evidence in unfamiliar surroundings, with lots of strangers watching, in an intimidating court, with lawyers in funny clothes asking questions, often aggressively and trying to catch you out, and with no ability to tell the story as you remember it?”