Oy Veil

Here are three people making a great deal of sense about the niqab palaver (though neither is a veil-wearer): Carl Gardner The Blog that Peter Wrote and the unsurpassable Matthew Scott.

In the Blackfriars Crown Court case, the Judge could have cut through the human rights stalemate. He could have said something like this to the defendant:

“As long as some one can identify you as the person who has been charged, it is your choice if you come into Court with your face covered. It will not affect the way that I treat you, which will be exactly the same as any defendant. However, you should perhaps reflect on what the jury will think. If they cannot see your face, they will not see how you are reacting when the prosecution evidence is being given, and if you choose to give evidence they will not see the manner in which you are answering questions. They may well want to take account of body language and facial expressions, as people do both in and outside Court.  I will direct them that they must assess your evidence in the same fair manner as they would any witness, but you may find that because they cannot see you, they will give your evidence less weight. These are things that may harm your defence. If that is a risk you are prepared to take, it is entirely a matter for you”.

So the defendant  is treated as a mature person capable of identifying her best interests and she can make an informed choice. If the veil is so important to her that she’s prepared to risk  the jury taking against her for it, on her head be it.

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About Francis FitzGibbon QC

I am a QC and member of Doughty Street Chambers, London (www.doughtystreet.co.uk). I practise criminal law. Please do not look for legal advice in this blog as you won't find any. The views expressed here are my own.
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7 Responses to Oy Veil

  1. Simon Carne says:

    I am curious that you base your argument on the premise that the effect of covering the face would only be in the direction of making a person less believable. Is there a reason to believe that? What if a witness has a revealing facial gesture when lying – one which is not visible when the face is covered? Are you able to rule that out?

    • SImon – thanks for your comment. I chose my words carefully and did not pin the question down to credibility. That’s only part of it. I believe that the defendant in the Blackfriars case is charged with witness intimidation. I don’t know the details, but it might help the jury to decide whether she looked like an intimidating person if they could see her face, and whether for example she reacted to a challenge in an aggressive fashion. While I would agree with Macbeth that there’s no art to read the mind’s construction in the face, the fact is that we all rely on subtle (or not so subtle) cues in people’s facial expressions when we communicate with them and – in the broadest sense – assess them. Deciding if they are telling the truth is one strand in that assessment.

  2. Simon Carne says:

    Francis: I have re-read your article and you did, indeed, choose your words more carefully than I read them, first time around. Thanks for putting me straight.

  3. Pingback: Veiled defendants should be allowed to give evidence | Barrister BloggerBarrister Blogger

  4. Z. Ahmed says:

    In Islam the Prophet did not issue any decree to cover the face nor is it compulsory in the Quran, but a matter of choice or interpretation to “cover your modesty”.

    In Court cases even the Prophet is reported to have confirmed the face should be visable to identify the person charged. What if a death sentence was on the cards and identification was paramount?

    I think the defendant has a right to wear what she chooses but as our learned freind has said at her peril.

  5. Pingback: Niqabs and burqas: the UK’s pop-up debate | Law & Religion UK

  6. Pingback: The Niqab Debate: Which Way Will The UK Swing? | Pakistan Horizon

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