A judge in Australia has declined to allow a Muslim woman to wear a niqab while giving testimony in court.
Moutia Elzahed, a Muslim woman who lives in New South Wales, claims she was assaulted by police officers during a raid of her home. Her husband, Hamdi Alqudsi, was convicted of recruiting Australian Muslims to fight with ISIS in Syria. She is now hoping to recover damages from authorities.
Elzahed indicated she would refuse to give evidence unless her face was concealed. The court attempted to accommodate her religious objections by offering to clear the court room of spectators or allow her to testify in a remote room. She declined both these accommodations, on the basis that male legal representatives would still be in her presence.
Prosecutors argued Elzahed’s face should be uncovered because it is important to study the demeanor and facial expressions of a witness who is giving testimony. They also argued that conflicts will emerge between the testimony of other witnesses which can only be resolved by Elzahed’s account of events. The court agreed with both these arguments.
Judge Audrey Balla wrote:
It is my role to ensure that there is a trial which is fair to all parties. I must balance on the one hand the need to respect the first plaintiff’s religious beliefs. In this case, those beliefs mean that she may choose not to give evidence which could impact on the successful prosecution of her case.
As the resolution of the likely conflict in the evidence as to exactly what occurred that morning is essential to the determination of the proceedings or the part of the proceedings involving the first plaintiff at least, and the assessment of the weight to be given to the evidence of the first plaintiff is part of that exercise, I have decided that she can only give evidence with her face uncovered. I decline to permit her to give evidence with her face covered.
A German administrative court banned Muslim women from wearing niqabs in public schools in August.