Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger said judges needed to show respect for different customs and religions.
Muslim women should be allowed to appear in court wearing full face veils, Britain’s top judge has suggested.
Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger said in the interests of fairness judges needed to show respect for different customs and religions.
He said: “Some women find women find it inappropriate to appear in public with their face uncovered.”
Lord Neuberger told the criminal Court Alliance that courts needed to be less intimidating.
Judges must show respect to women who choose to keep their faces covered due to their religious beliefs, the UK’s most senior judge has said.
Lord Neuberger said judges must have “an understanding of different cultural and social habits”, in their bid to show fairness to those involved in trials.
Addressing the Criminal Justice Alliance, the Supreme Court president said: “It is necessary to have some understanding as to how people from different cultural, social, religious or other backgrounds think and behave and how they expect others to behave.
“Well known examples include how some religions consider it inappropriate to take the oath, how some people consider it rude to look other people in the eye, how some women find it inappropriate to appear in public with their face uncovered, and how some people deem it inappropriate to confront others or to be confronted - for instance with an outright denial.”
Last year Judge Peter Murphy upheld a ruling allowing Muslim woman Rebekah Dawson to stand trial wearing a full face veil.
The 22-year-old waived her right to give evidence in her defence however, after it was ruled that she would have to remove the niqab, which made only her eyes visible, if she took the stand.
She later admitted witness intimidation, after denying the charge during a seven-day trial.
In a lengthy speech entitled “Fairness in the courts: the best we can do”, Lord Neuberger also said judges and lawyers should always keep in mind how “intimidating” the court process can be for those involved in trials, including “the parties, their families, the victims, the witnesses and the jurors”.
Speaking in the context of legal aid cuts, he said the importance of ensuring all parties involved in a case understand the goings-on in a court is now greater because “people are having to choose between representing themselves or not getting justice at all”.
Accepting that judges tend to come from privileged backgrounds, Lord Neuberger also warned of the dangers of allowing oneself to be swayed by their subconscious.
“A white male public school judge presiding in a trial of an unemployed traveller from Eastern Europe accused of assaulting or robbing a white female public school woman will, I hope, always be unbiased,” he said.
“However, he should always think to himself what his subconscious may be thinking or how it may be causing him to act; and he should always remember how things may look to the defendant, and indeed to the jury and to the public generally.”
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