The LSS has written to the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, following his recent speech about fairness in courts, in which he introduced an element of confusion on the issue of face-covering.
Lord Neuberger said (at paragraph 22):
“[…] It is necessary to have some understanding as to how people from different cultural, social, religious or other backgrounds think and behave and how they expect others to behave. Well known examples include how some religions consider it inappropriate to take the oath, how some people consider it rude to look other people in the eye, how some women find it inappropriate to appear in public with their face uncovered, and how some people deem it inappropriate to confront others or to be confronted – for instance with an outright denial. […]”
The legal profession has been waiting for guidance on the question of the veil in court for some time. The Lord Chief Justice announced on 5 November 2013 that a draft Practice Direction would be issued in the very near future, but unfortunately no such Practice Direction has yet been forthcoming.
The LSS has asked the President of the Supreme Court:
- Whether his statement represents the views of the Supreme Court, or only his own
- Whether his statement means that persons appearing in court should be allowed to keep their faces covered if they wish
- If so, whether this applies only to women and only to persons who claim particular religious beliefs, or to all persons
- Whether this guidance is intended to supply the deficiency of guidance on the topic from the Lord Chief Justice
The LSS strongly opposes face coverings in court in all stages of both criminal and civil trials for anyone, whether a participant (including jurors) or a representative, and whether giving evidence or not. Claimed religious beliefs would not afford any exemption from this, and failure to comply would be dealt with as contempt. However, the LSS does accept that special measures might be ordered by the judge to protect the identities of individuals in the interests of justice for security reasons (for example, members of the intelligence services).
You can read the LSS letter here.
Follow the LSS on Twitter @LawSecSoc and stay up to date with everything the LSS is up to by signing up for email alerts on this website’s home page (you can unsubscribe anytime you want)