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Minister urges new debate on niqab

20 September 2013

By a staff reporter


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 give evidence.

In the court ruling - in a case at Blackfriars Crown Court - His Honour Judge Peter Murphy also urged Parliament to rule on the issue.

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 courtroom.

"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 invisible?"

People responded by accusing her of "bigotry and Islamophobia".

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".

Leader comment

Question of the week: Should wearing a full-face veil be banned?

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