Monday, January 17, 2005

Unveiled justice

I'm not sure which way I really swing on the issue of Muslim women being forced to reveal their faces whle giving evidence. On the one hand, yes, the defence must be able to effectively challenge the prosecution's witnesses, and part of this involves assessing their demeanour to see whether they're lying. And on the other hand, given the strong prohibition on women revealing their faces in some Muslim clades, this is the equivalent to asking a western woman to appear topless - intrusive and humiliating, and likely to affect people's willingness to testify. And the fact that this is exactly why the defence was doing it - as a form of witness intimidation - leaves a very nasty taste in my mouth.

The judge at least has ruled that the women can be protected from public view by screens, which is entirely reasonable, and according to TV3 News at least one of the women is happy with the decision. If she can live with it, I think we all can.


I think they should show their faces, if for no other reason than if a NZ woman went to live in [a traditional Islam country], she'd be expected to behave in a culturally appropriate fashion and cover herself up. To use coarse cliches, "the law of the land" and "when in Rome" and all that. It's an extreme thing to say they have to reveal themselves, but having to give evidence is an extreme situation, and requires complete honesty and dispassion without cultural or social baggage or prejudices.

Posted by dritchie : 1/17/2005 08:11:00 PM

yeah, i've ben thinking about this one since posting on it a few months back. and, there's something fishy about it.

i got the impression that the judge may have been pissed off by the womens demand to not be seen? it was that or the women in question were using the veil as an excuse to avoid being seen?

something like that. essentially i was suspicious based on a photo i saw of the family in question. there was something dodgy about them? (i should add this suspicion had nothing to do with their religion. they just had 'shady' written all over them).

anyhow. it seems reasonable that the women show their faces in a restricted environment. you know, only court persons or jurors who need to see them can do so, and not the public gallery/press.

can't be any worse than what they put victims of sexual assault through in public.

Posted by the other 'Che' : 1/18/2005 09:53:00 AM

I don't really want to address the details of this particular case, but I have an opinion on the general one that's hidden behind it.

I don't think religious values should trump the needs of the workings of a secular society. A person's superstitions do not give them the right to force everyone else to do things their way.

In this case, I think that not wearing veils is such a trivial thing that it's absurd to think it should override the jury & judge's need to observe the faces of witnesses. Fortunately in this case it seems that a sensible compromise was reached.

I realise, of course, that people may not agree that New Zealand *is* a secular society (and legally, we aren't, really). But that's a whole other problem.

Posted by Unknown : 1/18/2005 10:55:00 AM

I initially felt along the lines of the topless analogy, but I've changed my view.

If I was female and chose to emigrate to a country where women habitually went topless, then I'd expect to have to follow that behaviour as and when required.

Posted by TomV : 1/18/2005 01:37:00 PM

There's a sound secular justification for people's faces being visible when they give evidence: it makes it easier to determine whether they're telling the truth. This is just as important for the public and media as it is for the judge and lawyers.

There's no secular justification for forcing people to go topless.

Posted by Nigel Kearney : 1/19/2005 12:45:00 PM