When a 21 year-old Muslim woman in the U.K. tried to stand trial in her burqa, Judge Peter Murphy wasn’t having any of it.
According to The Telegraph, he would not allow the young woman to stand trial in her burqa because it made it impossible to ascertain her identity. Murphy informed the Muslim that the principle of open justice overrides her religious beliefs, and that if she wore the burqa, someone else could easily take her place on the dock since she isn’t showing her face.
Despite this reasonable explanation the young criminal defiantly said she would not remove her veil in front of any men.
“It is necessary for this court to be satisfied that they can recognize the defendant,” Murphy responded to her protests. “While I obviously respect the right to dress in any way she wishes, certainly while outside the court, the interests of justice are paramount.”
“I can’t, as a circuit judge, accept a plea from a person whose identity I am unable to ascertain,” he added. “It would be easy for someone on a later occasion to appear and claim to be the defendant. The court would have no way to check on that.”
The Muslim woman is currently standing trial for intimidating a witness. Her lawyer, Claire Burtwistle, suggested that either she herself or a female police officer could confirm to the court that it was indeed the defendant under the veil. Murphy, however, refused to budge.
“It seems to me to be quite fundamental that the court is sure who it is the court is dealing with,” he said. “Furthermore, this court, as long as I am sitting, has the highest respect for any religious tradition a person has. In my courtroom also, this sometimes conflicts with the interests of a paramount need for the administration of justice. In my court room, that’s going to come first.”
In the end, Murphy adjourned the case for legal arguments as to whether the defendant should wear her veil. They are set to reconvene on September 12.