Should the guilty go free, or should we stop women wearing cloth in front of their face? You decide

Months ago, the tabloids decided to bully lawyer Shabnam Mughal for wearing a niqab in an immigration tribunal. Der Sturmer The Express was especially fascistic, including some particularly hateful bile in an eye-poppingly nazified editorial, and it's the Express that bothers to follow up on the final guidance issued on wearing niqabs in court by the Judicial Studies Board.

The guidance is pretty uncontroversial. It basically says it's up to the judge. If the judge thinks wearing a veil will cause problems, there are measures they can take, and exactly what they do is up to them. This includes asking to remove the veil. As we'd expect from the Express though, it doesn't get reported like that. Its coverage 'Muslims standing trial to hide their faces', the headline of which is a lie to start with, opens with:
MUSLIM women were yesterday given the full backing of the law to wear veils in court – even if they are standing trial for crimes.
Now, this will be a lengthy quote, but I think it's necessary to reproduce the full section on how niqab wearing women appearing as defendants or witnesses from the board's guidance to show exactly how false the Express's claim is. Here goes:
As a witness or defendant. For a witness or defendant, similarly, a sensitive request to remove a veil, with no sense of obligation or pressure, maybe appropriate, but careful thought must be given to such a request. The very fact of appearing in a court or tribunal will be quite traumatic for many, and additional pressure may well have an adverse impact on the quality of evidence given. Any request to remove a veil should be accompanied by an explanation by the judge of their concern that, where there are crucial issues of credit, the woman might be at a disadvantage if the judge or jury is not able to assess her demeanour or facial expressions when responding to questions. The witness or party may wish to discuss the matter with her legal representative or witness support worker.

It is worth emphasising that while it may be more difficult in some cases to assess the evidence of a woman wearing a niqab, the experiences of judges in other cases have shown that it is often possible to do so, depending on all the circumstances - hence the need to give careful thought to whether the veil presents a true obstacle to the judicial task. Can it be said, in the circumstances of the particular case, that the assessment will be different where the judge is able to see the witness’s face? In a criminal case, the position should be explained in the absence of the jury and the possibility considered of offering the use of permitted special measures, for example a TV link.

Where identification is an issue, then it must be dealt with appropriately, and may require the witness to make a choice between giving evidence in the case whilst showing her face, and not being able to be a witness.

Whilst not exact analogies, there are, of course, other circumstances in which a judge will take evidence without being able to see the face of the witness – for example, where evidence is taken on the phone, or where the judge is visually-impaired. [Emphasis (in bold) mine].
Did you see what the paper did there? It took the bits that probably mainly apply to witnesses from a section that talks about witnesses and defendants and pretended they applied just to defendants. What the report is basically saying is that if a defendant refuses to remove the veil, they forfeit their right to defend themselves. The paper also took something that was contingent on the decision of a judge and made it sound as though it was an absolute. But adding the words, 'unless a judge tells them to take it off,' would ruin the whole point of the article.

Back to Der Sturmer:
Senior judges ruled that religious dress – including the full niqab which leaves only the eyes exposed – should be allowed for anyone involved in a court case unless justice is threatened.
Just let that sink in for a minute. Now think about what that means the paper's stance is. That's right - women should not be allowed to wear a niqab in court even when it has no negative effect on the case or the outcome of the trial if they do.

In a nice illustration of yesterday's post "'This is outrageous', said Tarquin FitzTory", we have a quote to beef up the Express's position and false impression from a Tory MP. And wouldn't you just know it, it's from Philip Davies, of yesterday's post fame. Good old Phil. He says:
“People are entitled to see what is going on. All this pussy-footing around, judges have no comprehension of the damage there doing for community cohesion by coming out with this barmy stuff.

“I do not have a problem with someone wearing a veil where there is no issue. But if a judge tells someone to take off their veil, then they should take it off and we should not be kicking everyone else out.”
Here we have some clear proof that either Philip Davies hasn't read the report or hasn't understood it, because, "if a judge tells someone to take off their veil, then they should take it off" as he says, is pretty much a paraphrase of what the report says. You'd think that someone who has been stung giving weight to a lame tabloid story like Philip Davies would be wary of being caught out a second time. But that's only if you're gullible enough to believe he's more interested in giving a considered opinion on actual events than making a cheap political point in a crap newspaper.

There's then some nice obfuscation, with the paper reporting:
If the wearer of a veil is the defendant, the judge must “give careful thought to whether the veil presents a true obstacle to the judicial task”.

It reminds judges that should the veil be an issue when the defendant is giving evidence there are “special measures” available, including TV links or clearing the court of those not directly involved.
I don't see what the problem is with this advice, but that's because I've read the bit before that in the report, that says:
The very fact of appearing in a court or tribunal will be quite traumatic for many, and additional pressure may well have an adverse impact on the quality of evidence given.
You know, the section of the report that points out that forcing a witness or defendant to remove a veil might actually have a negative impact on the trial. It might actually be worse than allowing them to wear the veil or implement other measures. Does this mean that the Express cares more about forcing Muslims to dress how non-Muslims would prefer in court than ensuring a fair trial? Given that the paper doesn't think this sentence is important, I rather think it does.

Phillip Davies is backed up by none other than David Davies, also of yesterday's post fame. Not being shy of hyperbole and red-faced histrionics, he says:
“This is another nail in the coffin for this country.

“We have reached the point where we are bending over backwards to pander and forget the culture and laws that made this country what it is."
Now, Dave. Dave. Part of the culture and laws that make this country what it is is the freedom to practice any religion you like, and to express those beliefs in any way you see fit (as long as it doesn't cause practical problems). The principle of not forcing people to conform because, you know, they might not want to. His next sentence is great:
“The veil is not something that is part of the Muslim culture and is even banned in some Muslim countries.”
If you want to know what is and what isn't part of Muslim culture, don't listen to the arguments form Muslims on both sides, don't allow Muslims to decide for themselves. Have a non-Muslim Tory MP decide for them instead.

Because banning pieces of cloth is what matters. The question of whether or not innocent people get punished or guilty people get set free is piffling nonsense. The Express likes to think of itself as a paper tough on criminals - more concerned with banging up criminals than with their [spit] human rights. But it's prepared to sacrifice that principle to stop some people wearing a bit of cloth in front of their face.

Nice to know it has its priorities straight.*

*I might have employed a bit of tabloid style hyperbole in coming to this conclusion.

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