A Muslim woman has been permitted to wear a full face veil while appearing in the dock at Crown Court, in what is thought to be the first such case of its kind.
By By Martin Evans, Crime Correspondent
6:56PM BST 12 Sep 2013
Rebekah Dawson from East London had refused to lift her niqab in order to confirm her identity when she appeared at Blackfriars Crown Court last month to enter a plea to a charge of intimidating a witness.
The 22-year-old Muslim convert claimed it was against her religious beliefs to allow any male other than her husband to see her face.
But District Judge, Peter Murphy, refused to let her enter the dock and submit a plea on the grounds he had no way of knowing she was who she said she was.
Adjourning the case for legal argument until today, he explained that while it was important to respect a person’s religious beliefs, the interests of justice had to remain paramount.
He told the court: “It would be easy for someone on a later occasion to appear and claim to be the defendant. The court would have no way to check on that.”
But when Mrs Dawson appeared before court today, the Judge relented after a compromise was reached.
He allowed a female police officer, who had dealt with her when she was arrested, to confirm her identity in a private side room before giving sworn evidence that she was who she said she was.
Mrs Dawson then entered the dock wearing the full face veil where she pleaded not guilty to the charge.
But she was told she may still be required to remove the niqab when her trial begins in November.
Judge Murphy said: “I will not have the defendant dictating to the court how she wishes to appear.”
Her barrister Susan Meek argued that Mrs Dawson’s right to wear a niqab, which covers everything but the eyes, was protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But Judge Murphy expressed concern over the fact jurors would not be able to see the defendant’s full facial expressions during the trial.
Miss Meek argued that jurors would still be able to assess her demeanour by examining how her head, body and eyes moved.
She added: “There is always going to be a photograph of her, the jury will always be able to see her. The jury are more than able to know who they are trying by looking at a photograph of her.”
Kate Wilkinson, prosecuting said the Crown did not oppose the defendant being allowed to wear a veil.
In 2007 guidelines issued by the Judicial Studies Board urged judges to remain sensitive when asking defendants to remove veils, suggesting there should be “no sense of obligation or pressure”.
Judge Murphy is due to give his final ruling on whether he will allow Mrs Dawson to wear a veil during the trial on Monday.