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Objection, Your Honour! Accommodating Niqab-Wearing Women in Courtrooms

LEGAL PRACTICE AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY, Ralph Grillo et. al., eds., Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., pp. 115-133, 2009

Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 09-60

20 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2009 Last revised: 19 Sep 2009

Natasha Bakht

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: February 2, 2009

Abstract

Muslim women who wear the hijab have for some time borne the brunt of public and institutional opposition to their religious dress. Of late, Muslim women who wear the niqab, or the full-face veil, have also found themselves to be the targets of arbitrary governmental policies and public objection. This chapter is an attempt to analyze opposition to the niqab in courtroom settings. It is argued that permitting women to wear the niqab in courtrooms does not impede justice. Opposition to the niqab is usually a knee-jerk response to difference that is typically not grounded in any rational understanding of the actual circumstances at issue. Part I of this chapter scrutinizes judicial assessment of credibility based on demeanour evidence, suggesting that demeanour is an inherently unreliable tool by which to judge truthfulness. The author argues that accommodations ought to be available to niqab-wearing women in their potentially multiple roles as lawyer, witness, jury member, judge or accused. Part II of the chapter suggests accommodation measures for niqab-wearing women in the few instances in which seeing their faces is necessary for the judicial task at hand. The illustrations in this chapter are drawn primarily from cases in Canada with some examples from Britain, the United States and New Zealand.

Keywords: niqab, Muslim women, demeanour, courtrooms, accommodation

JEL Classification: J71, J78

Suggested Citation

Bakht, Natasha, Objection, Your Honour! Accommodating Niqab-Wearing Women in Courtrooms (February 2, 2009). LEGAL PRACTICE AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY, Ralph Grillo et. al., eds., Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., pp. 115-133, 2009; Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 09-60. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1336791 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1336791

Natasha Bakht (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5
Canada

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