Supreme Court, in split decision, rules niqab OK in court in some cases


OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada, in a split decision, has ruled that in certain circumstances, a woman can wear a religious veil known as a niqab while testifying in court.

The landmark ruling in a case that pitted religious freedom against an accused person’s right to a fair trial will affect future cases involving religious accommodation in courtrooms.

In this latest case, a Muslim woman sought to wear a niqab while testifying against two men she claims sexually assaulted her when she was a child.

In a rare 4-2-1 split decision, the Supreme Court referred the matter back to an Ontario trial judge that had just started hearing the case in a preliminary hearing.

The high court outlined a series of considerations that trial judges must weigh in determining whether a witness is allowed to cover their face while on the witness stand.

"Future cases will doubtless raise other factors, and scientific exploration of the importance of seeing a witness's face to cross-examination and credibility assessment may enhance or diminish the force of the arguments made in this case," says the majority judgement.

"At this point, however, it may be ventured that where the liberty of the accused is at stake, the witness's evidence is central to the case and her credibility vital, the possibility of a wrongful conviction must weigh heavily in the balance, favouring removal of the niqab," it adds.

"The judge must assess all these factors and determine whether, in the case at hand, the salutary effects of requiring the witness to remove the niqab outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so."

The controversial issue, which has divided the Muslim community, has reared its head in recent years, leading to a new law in Quebec for public sector workers and new federal immigration rules that ban face coverings while taking the oath of citizenship.

Due to a publication ban, the woman can only be identified as N.S.

The two accused claim the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows them to confront their accuser and observe her facial expressions as she testifies.

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Supreme Court, in split decision, rules niqab OK in court in some cases

  1. Clearly a difficult decision. I agree that the accused should have the right to face the accuser, and the judge (or jury) should also be able to see the facial expressions as part of their assessment of truthfulness of testimony [though I can think of no reason for anyone else to see].

    On the other hand, by insisting on the removal, we risk victims and witnesses not coming forward, choosing the seclusion of the veil over exposure to strangers.

    I hope the courts proceed with caution and give each case due consideration as to whether removal is truly needed or not – and under what type of circumstances.

    • Sorry. It was not a difficult decision. Unfortunately, judges don’t know that nowhere in the qur’an is it required for a female to hide one’s hair or face, only to cover one’s chest with its veils. The face covering is Sharia Law.
      You are also very naive when it comes to the nikab, which is not the burqa. Women are forced into wearing the burqa. The nikab is another story: it is radical extremist islam – salafism. All the nikabees I have met are extremely arrogant and not to be pitied. Their goal is to introduce Sharia law into our culture, like they have done in Europe.

    • Forgot to mention: the next step will be for muslim men to demand the removal of all non face-covered women from the courtrooms because their religion forbids them from being in their presence. How do you feel about this?

  2. I think the court was wise to avoid a simple rule that is a one-size-fits-all approach. Since we live in a multi-cultural society, we must be prepared to accommodate others, whether that be in the courtroom, or at the office. For a summary of this case R. v. N.S., see http://www.LawShack.ca or http://wp.me/2CO5m

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