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 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

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