Should women be allowed to wear burqas in court?

Thursday, June 13, 2013
Should women be allowed to wear burqas in court?

A Brisbane magistrate has caused controversy by questioning whether a Saudi woman should be allowed to wear a full burqa in court.

John Costello was sentencing a woman who pleaded guilty to leaving her baby, aged four months, unattended in a car in direct sunlight for 45 minutes last year.

The woman appeared in court in a full burqa, leading Mr Costello to question whether it was "appropriate" for face coverings to be worn in the setting.

"I can only see the eyes of that defendant,'' Mr Costello said. "This is an Australian court."

Mr Costello went on to sentence the 27-year-old woman without requiring her to remove her traditional dress.

The Islamic Council of Queensland came out in support of Mr Costello, saying it supported magistrates asking women to remove their face covering if there was a question of identification as long as the situation was handled with sensitivity and the woman was taken into another room for identification by a female court officer.

In 2010, a Perth woman made national headlines when she was banned from wearing her burqa to give evidence in a criminal trial.

The woman, aged 36, accepted the judge's decision saying she wasn't trying to make a religious statement.

"I appreciate my request to wear my niqab in court has stirred much public debate, however, I would emphasise that this was not a demand, I merely asked to dress as I normally would in front of people I do not know," the woman said.

France controversially banned all people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, from wearing face coverings in public places in 2010.

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