THE rights of young Muslim women and the wearing of a full-face
veil - the niqab - should be the subject of a national debate, a
government minister has said.
The Home Office minister Jeremy Browne said that there should be
a debate on whether girls and young women should be protected by
the state from having the veil imposed on them.
His comments were prompted by the dropping of a ban on the veil
at Birmingham Metropolitan College, and a court ruling this week
which said that an accused Muslim woman must remove her veil to
In the court ruling - in a case at Blackfriars Crown Court - His
Honour Judge Peter Murphy also urged Parliament to rule on the
Judge Murphy said: "Given the ever-increasing diversity of
society in England and Wales, this is a question which may be
expected to arise more and more frequently and to which an answer
must be provided. The niqab has become the elephant in the
"I express the hope that Parliament or a higher court will
review this question sooner rather than later, and provide a
definitive statement of the law to trial judges."
In his ruling, he said that the accused could wear her veil when
not giving evidence.
The 22-year-old woman from London, who cannot be named for legal
reasons, says that it is against her religious beliefs to show her
face in public. She wore the veil as she pleaded not guilty last
week to a charge of witness intimidation.
The Conservative MP Dr Sarah Woollaston urged the Government to
ban full-face veils in all schools and colleges. She tweeted: "The
niqab should be banned within schools and colleges; how on earth do
they promote equality when they collude with making women
People responded by accusing her of "bigotry and
The Prime Minister supported the decision by the Birmingham
college. Schools had the right to set their own uniform policies,
Mr Cameron said. But his deputy, Nick Clegg, said that he felt
"uneasy" about the decision.
The college reversed the ban after receiving an online petition
of 9000 signatures in advance of a planned demonstration.
In a statement, the college said: "We will modify our policies
to allow individuals to wear specific items of personal clothing to
reflect their cultural values."
The director of the Christian Muslim Forum, Julian Bond, said:
"The challenge for our society is . . . to be mature enough to cope
with difference, rather than seeing the world as 'us' and 'them'.
It shouldn't be necessary to say that many niqab-wearing women in
the UK were probably born here, but it's worth highlighting."
He agreed that there should be a "national conversation".
Question of the week: Should wearing a full-face veil be