LONDON (AFP) – A Muslim woman will be allowed to go on trial in Britain wearing a full-face veil but must take it off while giving evidence, in what is thought to be a legal first, a judge ruled Monday.
Lawyers for the 22-year-old woman from London had argued that removing the niqab against her wishes would breach her human rights and be counter to Britain's tolerance of Islamic dress.
But Judge Peter Murphy, sitting at London's Blackfriars Crown Court, said: "In general, the defendant is free to wear the niqab during trial.
"If the defendant gives evidence she must remove the niqab throughout her evidence."
In his ruling Judge Murphy said concealing the face would "drive a coach and horses through the way justice has been administered in England and Wales for centuries".
He added: "The court may use its inherent powers to do what it can to alleviate any discomfort, for example by allowing the use of screens or allowing her to give evidence by live link."
In preliminary hearings the woman had taken the veil off in a back room to be formally identified by a woman police officer.
The woman had argued it would be against her religious beliefs to show her face in public.
She entered a not guilty plea to a charge of intimidation last week while wearing a niqab after the judge backed down from a previous decision that she would have to show her face to be properly identified.
But making his final judgment today, the judge said: "The ability of the jury to see the defendant for the purposes of evaluating her evidence is crucial."
Referring to the woman only as "D", the judge said she had only worn the veil since May 2012 but his decision would have been the same if she had worn it for years.
There is no restriction in Britain to the wearing of the niqab in public.