Ban the veil in courts, say barristers

Most barristers favour a ban on defendants wearing the full-face veil during the whole of a criminal trial, a new poll suggests.

Some 90 per cent were in favour of the veil, or niqab, being banned when a defendant gives evidence. The support for a ban comes in a poll by the Bar Council for The Times, to be released today at the annual Bar Conference.

The first defendant to insist on wearing the niqab goes on trial next week. The Muslim woman, who has denied a charge of witness intimidation, has been told that she must remove her veil when giving evidence. She can wear it for the rest of the proceedings.

The survey of more than 400 barristers showed that 34 per cent supported the ban only when the defendant gave evidence, while 57 per cent would go further than the judge in the pending case and insist on the removal of the veil for the entire proceedings.

Maura McGowan, QC, chairman of the Bar, said: “An individual’s freedom to practise his or her religion is very important but sometimes that has to be balanced, with sensitivity, against the wider, public interest.”

The findings will increase the pressure for guidance on the wearing of the full-face veil in court. The judge in the pending case has said that Parliament or a higher court should “provide a definitive statement of the law”.

Times, 2 November 2013