In London, the Daily Mail reports that England’s most senior immigration judge that court personnel may don the Islamic niqab (the veil covering all but the eyes) for court proceedings. We debated the veil controversy here at NRO on Oct 25. Emphasis below is mine:
Lawyers can wear the Islamic veil in court, senior judges have ruled. The ruling comes after an immigration judge refused to allow a lawyer to appear in his court wearing a full-face niqab earlier this week. The immigration case was postponed after Muslim Shabnam Mughal said removing the veil would go against her religious beliefs. Yesterday, the country’s most senior immigration judge said that legal representatives should be allowed to wear the veil because “it is important to be sensitive in such cases”. Mr Justice Hodge, president of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, said: “The representative in the recent case has appeared veiled previously at hearings without difficulties.”
The judge – who is the husband of Industry Minister Margaret Hodge – added: “The presumption is that if a representative before a tribunal wishes to wear a veil, has the agreement of his or her client and can be heard reasonably clearly by all parties to the proceedings, then the representative should be allowed to do so.” …
Yesterday’s ruling is only temporary, ahead of a full declaration from the Judicial Studies Board, which issues advice to judges on questions of race and faith equality. The Board is notorious for publishing a list of banned words and phrases which it told judges to avoid in the interests of equality. Banned terms included ‘immigrant’, ‘Asian’, ‘postman’ and ‘man and wife’. England’s most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, was consulted by Mr Justice Hodge before he made his decision. Lord Phillips said: “This is clearly a sensitive issue which requires a well-considered response.”
He added that the “interim” advice from Mr Justice Hodge “should not necessarily be seen as a blueprint of more general guidance”. Javid Hussain, practice manager at Coventry Law Partnership – where Miss Mughal works – said of the new ruling: “It doesn’t appear to be a permanent ruling. It looks like he has left it up to whichever judge is sitting on each case and has left the door open. “Mr Justice Hodge seems to be saying that the tribunal chairman was within his rights to ask for the removal of the veil. “In a way, we find that disappointing and would have preferred it to be clearer and more supportive of our employee.”
Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw provoked a fierce debate last month when he called the veil a “visible statement of separation and difference” and “bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult”. Mr Straw was immediately accused of discrimination by Muslim groups. Tony Blair joined the debate by saying Muslim women who wear full veils make others feel “uncomfortable”.