11 May 2015

The full face veil in court: Lord Neuberger and the confusion between equality and exceptionalism

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, recently made a speech to the Criminal Justice Alliance on the topic of “Fairness in the courts”. Putting it mildly, this speech attracted widespread media attention: see here, here and here. And such attention resulted in the Supreme Court’s Press Office going into overdrive.

What caused the widespread media attention was that Lord Neuberger appeared to suggest that Muslim women should, in the interests of ‘fairness’, be allowed to wear a full face veil when giving evidence in court.

.... Permitting Muslim women to wear full face veils when giving evidence in court would actually undermine fairness in our legal system. This is because a category of person – in this case Muslim women (or those deemed as such) – would be considered exempt from the standards expected from everyone else.

This is exceptionalism and not equality. And this exceptionalism would invariably harm our legal system because the court would be reaching decisions by treating a category of people differently.

We must insist that everyone show their face when giving evidence in court. Fairness demands it. [Lawyers' Secular Society] Read more