Wearing niqab should be woman's choice, says Theresa May
Home Secretary's comments come after judge rules that woman must remove full-face veil to give evidence during trial
Tuesday 17 September 2013
The Government should not tell women what to wear, the Home Secretary has said amid ongoing debate over the use of full-face veils.
Theresa May said it is for women to "make a choice" about what clothes they wear, including veils, although there will be some circumstances when it will be necessary to ask for them to be removed.
Her comments come after a judge yesterday ruled that a Muslim woman will be allowed to stand trial while wearing a full-face veil but must remove it while giving evidence.
The ruling followed calls by Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne for a national debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women having the veil imposed upon them.
Asked if parliament needs to issue formal guidance to courts and schools on whether women should be allowed to wear a veil, the Home Secretary told Sky News: "I start from the position that I don't think Government should tell people, I don't think the Government should tell women, what they should be wearing.
"I think it's for women to make a choice about what clothes they wish to wear, if they wish to wear a veil that is for a woman to make a choice.
"There will be some circumstances in which it's right for public bodies, for example at the border, at airport security, to say there is a practical necessity for asking somebody to remove a veil.
"I think it's for public bodies like the Border Force officials, it's for schools and colleges, and others like the judiciary, as we've recently seen, to make a judgment in relation to those cases as to whether it's necessary to ask somebody to remove the veil.
"But in general women should be free to decide what to wear for themselves."
Judge Peter Murphy, sitting at London's Blackfriars Crown Court, yesterday ruled it was "crucial" for jurors to be able to see a defendant's face when giving evidence.
The 22-year-old from London in question, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said it is against her religious beliefs to show her face in public.
Referred to in court as "D", she entered a not guilty plea to a charge of intimidation last week while wearing a niqab after the judge backed down from a previous decision that she would have to show her face to be properly identified.
Mr Browne MP earlier said he was "instinctively uneasy" about restricting religious freedoms, but he added there may be a case to act to protect girls who were too young to decide for themselves whether they wished to wear the veil or not.
"I think this is a good topic for national debate. People of liberal instincts will have competing notions of how to protect and promote freedom of choice," he told The Daily Telegraph.
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