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British immigration judges to allow Muslim veils in courtrooms

[JURIST] The president of the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal [official website] told tribunal judges Thursday they should allow Muslim lawyers to wear veils in their courtrooms unless it interferes with the "interests of justice", as long as their clients approve and all parties to the proceedings can hear the representatives speak. Judge George Glossop adjourned an immigration hearing Wednesday after lawyer Shabnam Mughal refused to remove [JURIST report] her niqab [Wikipedia backgrounder] even though Glossop said he could not hear her. The ruling is a stopgap, however, and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, says that an judicial equal rights committee has been asked to issue permanent rules on the matter.

The wearing of Muslim veils in court and in other social settings has been a focus of dispute in several cases recently, reflecting a more general international debate on the place of religious dress [JURIST news archive]. Last month, a Muslim teaching assistant was suspended by a British school [JURIST report] for refusing to remove her niqab after being told that her pupils were less likely to understand her when she spoke from behind her veil. A judge in Pakistan also forbade female lawyers [JURIST report] from wearing veils in courtrooms, telling a veiled lawyer, "You are professionals and should be dressed as required of lawyers..." The UK Press Association has more.

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