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Burka ban Tory MP could face legal action

Andrew Grice
Sunday 25 July 2010 17:00 BST
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The MP who is refusing to hold meetings with Muslim women wearing full Islamic dress faces legal action.

In an interview with The Independent this month, Philip Hollobone said he would ask a woman wearing the niqab at his constituency surgery to lift her face veil. If she refused, he would end the interview, although he would take up her case if she later wrote a letter to him.

The human rights group Liberty has written to the Kettering MP warning that his decision would breach the 2006 Equality Act. It told him: “As an MP providing a service… the obligation under the Equality Act not to discriminate applies to you.” The group “will be happy to represent any of your constituents that you refuse to meet because they are veiled”.

James Welch, Liberty’s legal director, said: “Religion is a perfectly legitimate subject for debate but in the UK at least, it is not a lawful basis for discrimination. Here the struggle for religious freedom was vital to the struggle for democracy itself. Common sense and decency suggest that neither freedom nor integration is achieved by cutting people off from their elected representatives or arresting them for walking down the street.”

Mr Welch said Liberty was confident that no well-advised MP would seek to breach the Act by meeting with constituents on a discriminatory basis. Liberty argues that Mr Hollobone’s offer to deal with a case by letter would still amount to discrimination. The MP, who is to bring in a backbench Bill to ban wearing the niqab or burka in public, could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

The Equality Act 2006 prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of a person’s religion or belief. This applies to, amongst others, those providing a service or who have functions of a public nature.

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