Britain’s most senior female judge has said that women in veils should be compelled to show their faces when giving evidence in court.
Baroness Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, told the Evening Standard that ways have "got to be found" to ensure that face coverings are removed for key parts of court hearings. She added that there "must come a point" at which judges insist veils are lifted.
She said that seeing faces could be "important" and "necessary" when women were testifying and on other occasions, such as when the issue of identity was at stake.
Last year Rebekah Dawson refused to remove her niqab during her trial for witness intimidation. The judge in the case told Dawson — later jailed for six months after pleading guilty — that she would have to show her face if giving evidence.
The Lord Chief Justice responded to the case by vowing to publish guidelines on the issue. But Lady Hale made clear she feels the rules must require veils be removed at critical points in court.
"We don’t object to allowing people to do things for sincerely held religious reasons if they don’t do any harm. If it does harm, we have to be a bit tougher," she said.
Lady Hale said it might be possible to "accommodate" a woman’s religious beliefs by the use of screens.
"There are other situations, not only giving evidence, when it's necessary to be able to recognise people and identify people. If it's necessary to see their face then ways have got to be found to allow that to happen."