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Should witnesses testifying in court be allowed to wear a niqab?

Categories: Canada, Community, Politics

The Supreme Court of Canada has opened the door to witnesses testifying in court while wearing the niqab, setting out criteria for balancing religious freedom and rights to a fair trial. 

The Supreme Court grappled with a legal dilemma in ruling whether a woman could testify in court wearing a niqab: on the one side is a religious belief said to be sincerely held, and on the other, the right of an accused to a full defence.The Supreme Court grappled with a legal dilemma in ruling whether a woman could testify in court wearing a niqab: on the one side is a religious belief said to be sincerely held, and on the other, the right of an accused to a full defence. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)The case involves a Muslim woman who wants to wear a niqab, a face veil that leaves only the wearer's eyes uncovered, during her testimony against two men whom she says sexually assaulted her when she was a child. 

The Supreme Court ruled against the woman's bid to wear the niqab, but has sent the decision back to the preliminary court judge to reconsider his decision to deny her request. 

In its decision, the court said it would set out a clear method for balancing the right to wear the niqab against the right to a fair trial. The decision was supported by four of the seven Supreme Court justices. 

The criteria include whether the veil interferes with the cross-examination, whether the witness would be appearing before a judge only or before a jury and the nature of the evidence.

Two judges said N.S., as the woman is referred to, should not wear her niqab at all. One judge, Justice Rosalie Abella, would have allowed the niqab except in circumstances where the identity of the witness was at stake.

 "A clear rule that would always, or one that would never, permit a witness to wear the niqab while testifying cannot be sustained," the decision says. 

In the comments of our story yesterday setting up the decision, most members of the CBC Community say that the niqab shouldn't be allowed in court. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/12/20/pol-supreme-court-niqab-ruling.html

  • "Reading facial expressions is essential to an effective cross examination. You are denying the accused the right to adequately cross examine a witness and that is a fundamental denial of justice. While this women might experience embarrassment for a supposed violation of religious modesty, the accused could be denied freedom," said NQuick.

  • "This woman is very brave for coming forward about the disgusting sexual abuse at the hands of her own family members. That being said, she still needs to have her face shown in court. If we make exceptions for religious requests than it starts a slippery slope to what is and isn't allowable and would be harder to refuse such requests in the future," said SterlingArcher.

  • "I agree in principle that people should not be permitted to conceal their faces in a court of law. However, I wish a case about a woman being (allegedly) repeatedly raped as a child by her family members wasn't the test case. If indeed true, this woman has surely been through enough," said Sgadler. 

But some commenters said the niqab should be allowed in some circumstances. 

  • "I certainly have no problem with her wearing it because the judge has seen her face. In my view no one else needs to for a fair trial," said BCWorkinman.

  • "Since it's not unlawful to wear a face covering there should be no problem accepting the testimony of the woman as long as the court has verified her identity," said gardnermonk. 

Should witnesses be allowed to wear a niqab under certain exceptional circumstances? Let us know what you think. 



(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)

Tags: Canada, law, Politics, POV, religion

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