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Australia judge bans Muslim face veil during witness testimony

A judge for the District Court of Western Australia [official website] ruled Thursday that a Muslim woman providing testimony before the court will not be allowed to cover her face and body with a niqab [JURIST news archive]. Judge Shauna Deane stated that it would be inappropriate for the woman to be completely veiled [AFP report] because it could affect the jury's ability to gauge her demeanor and determine the validity of her testimony. The witness, identified in court records as Tasneem, is scheduled to testify for the prosecution in a fraud case involving a Muslim women's college. The prosecution argued on behalf of Tasneem that she would be uncomfortable testifying without a veil [BBC report] and that it could affect her testimony. Defense lawyers argued that the jury should be able to watch the witness' facial expressions. Deane stated that, in making her decision, she considered the witness' right of religious expression and what would be most fair to everyone involved in the trial. She also suggested that the defense and prosecution work together [AP report] to minimize Tasneem's discomfort in appearing without a veil, possibly through video testimony. Deane also noted that her ruling should not stand as a legal precedent and that her decision was based only on the particular circumstances of this case.

The issue of the wearing of religious face veils while in a courtroom has been addressed by several jurisdictions. In 2008, a US federal judge dissmissed a lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman [JURIST reports] against a judge who asked her to remove her niqab in court. In 2006, the UK Asylum and Immigration Board informed immigration judges [JURIST report] that 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. Also in 2006, a Pakistani judge stated that female lawyers were forbidden to wear religious veils [JURIST report] in his courtroom and that they should dress in the manner required by their profession.

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