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Judge hears face veil trial pleas

A devout Muslim woman should be allowed to stand trial without taking off her full-face veil, because forcing her to do so would breach her human rights, a court has heard.

Making the woman remove her niqab would also be counter to the "tolerant" approach to Islamic dress in the UK, her barrister argued.

The defendant, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was allowed to enter a not guilty plea to a charge of intimidation with her face covered after a judge backed down from previously saying she must show her face in court to be identified properly. She had argued that it was against her religious beliefs to show her face to men.

Judge Peter Murphy later heard legal argument about whether the woman should be allowed to stand trial without wearing her veil and is due to hand down written directions on Monday.

Her barrister, Susan Meek, argued that the woman, from London, had a right to wear the veil during trial in November under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which safeguards religious beliefs. She also highlighted the "tolerant" approach taken to Islamic dress in the UK.

"She is entitled to wear it in private and in public," Ms Meek said. "That right to wear the niqab also extends to the courtroom. There is no legislation in the UK in respect of the wearing of the niqab. There is no law in this country banning it."

Judge Murphy allowed the woman to enter the dock at Blackfriars Crown Court and deny a charge of intimidation after she had been identified in a private room by a female police officer.

The Metropolitan Police constable, who was present when the defendant was photographed following her arrest in June, then swore on oath that it was the same woman under the niqab in the dock. Beforehand the defendant had not even been able to enter the dock, because her identity had not been checked.

At the start of Thursday's hearing Judge Murphy said he had been given a substantial amount of material since the last hearing in August regarding the woman's right to keep her veil on. He then said: "I would be satisfied for the officer giving evidence, having seen the defendant backstage so to speak in a private setting, saying she could identify her."

After the plea was taken, the court heard legal argument about the upcoming trial.