The UK’s most senior Judge Lord Neuberger has said that Judges must show respect to women who choose to keep their faces covered due to their religious beliefs. He commented that fairness requires understanding of different cultures and warns against Judges’ privileged backgrounds being allowed to influence rulings.
Addressing the Criminal Justice Alliance, the President of the Supreme Court said:
“It is necessary to have some understanding as to how people from different cultural, social, religious or other backgrounds think and behave and how they expect others to behave.
“Well-known examples include how some religions consider it inappropriate to take the oath, how some people consider it rude to look other people in the eye, how some women find it inappropriate to appear in public with their face uncovered, and how some people deem it inappropriate to confront others or to be confronted – for instance with an outright denial.”
In 2014 Judge Peter Murphy upheld a ruling allowing Muslim woman Rebekah Dawson to stand trial wearing a full-face veil. However it was ruled that she would have to remove the niqab when she gave evidence herself and following this ruling she waived her right to give evidence in her defence. She later admitted witness intimidation after initially denying the charge during the trial.
In a lengthy speech entitled “Fairness in the courts: the best we can do”, Neuberger accepted that judges tended to come from privileged backgrounds and warned of the dangers arising from this.
“A white male public school judge presiding in a trial of an unemployed traveller from eastern Europe accused of assaulting or robbing a white female public school woman will, I hope, always be unbiased.”.
“However he should always think to himself what his subconscious may be thinking or how it may be causing him to act; and he should always remember how things may look to the defendant, and indeed to the jury and to the public generally.”
Neuberger said judges, lawyers and all those involved in the criminal justice system should always keep in mind how “intimidating” the court process could be for those involved in trials, including “the parties, their families, the victims, the witnesses and the jurors”.
Writtne by Ruth Peters of Olliers Solicitors.