Muslim face veil 'is a kind of bag' and women shouldn't wear it in court, says Ken Clarke The Daily Mail, November 3, 2013
- Former barrister believes women should wear what they wish in public
- But not when 'engaged in some serious issue such as giving evidence'
- Minister describes niqab as a 'most peculiar costume for 21st century'
- Judge asked Muslim woman to remove her veil for part of upcoming trial
Muslim women should not wear the full-face veil in court as it is difficult to give evidence from within ‘a kind of bag’, Ken Clarke said today.
The minister, a former barrister, said he believed women should wear what they wish in public, but not when ‘engaged in some serious issue such as giving evidence’ as it would ‘undermine’ the trial.
He described the wearing of the niqab, where only the woman’s eyes are visible, as a ‘most peculiar costume for the 21st century’ that left them ‘completely invisible’ to others.
Mr Clarke’s comments are likely to reignite the row over the veil, which came to the fore when a judge asked a Muslim woman to remove her veil to give evidence during a trial set to begin this month.
Judge Peter Murphy ruled that the 22-year-old woman, accused of intimidating a witness, had to be seen by him, the jury and the lawyers, at a plea hearing at Blackfriars Crown Court in September.
But she would be allowed to keep her face covered during the rest of the trial. He said: ‘The ability of the jury to see the defendant for the purposes of evaluating her evidence is crucial.’
Veteran politician Mr Clarke, currently a minister without portfolio in David Cameron’s cabinet, said a clear rule was needed, but said screens could be used in court to protect the woman from the gaze of the public.
He said: ‘I was years ago a barrister at the bar in criminal cases for about 15 years, and I don’t think a witness should be allowed to give evidence from behind a veil.
‘The key thing a judge or a jury has to do is decide whether someone is telling the truth, and the fact is we don’t know individually how each of us decides whether we trust somebody or believe they’re telling the truth when they tell us a story, and it’s all because of the body language and the expression and how they do it.