CAIRO - A debate on the wearing of face-veil has engulfed Britain after a judge refused to allow a Muslim woman to enter a plea in court until she showed her face.
"While I obviously respect the right to dress in any way she wishes, certainly while outside the court, the interests of justice are paramount, Judge Peter Murphy told the 21-year-old defendant from Hackney in east London, The Guardian reported.
I can't, as a circuit judge, accept a plea from a person whose identity I am unable to ascertain.
"It would be easy for someone on a later occasion to appear and claim to be the defendant. The court would have no way to check on that," he added.
The debated started when the woman, from Hackney in East London, who cannot be named for legal reasons, appeared in court after facing an allegation of intimidating a witness in Finsbury Park in June.
At the court, she refused to remove her niqab and told the court that it was against her religious beliefs to allow any male other than her husband to see her face.
Sarah Counsell, prosecuting, said the police officer in charge of the case was content that he recognized the defendant while she was in the burqa.
However, the judge said the principle of open justice overrode the woman's religious beliefs.
"It is necessary for this court to be satisfied that they can recognise the defendant," the judge said.
"While I obviously respect the right to dress in any way she wishes, certainly while outside the court, the interests of justice are paramount. I can't, as a circuit judge, accept a plea from a person whose identity I am unable to ascertain.
"It would be easy for someone on a later occasion to appear and claim to be the defendant. The court would have no way to check on that."
Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.7 million.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil.
Scholars believe it is up to women to decide whether to take on the veil or burqa, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.
Seeking a compromise, the woman's barrister suggested that she, a female police officer or a female prison guard could identify the defendant and confirm to the court that it was the same person as in the police arrest photos.
"In front of women, it is not an issue," Claire Burtwistle, the barrister, said.
It is simply men that she will not allow to see her face.
But the judge rejected the proposal, adjourning for legal argument over whether or not the defendant should have to remove her veil to 12 September.
"It seems to me to be quite fundamental that the court is sure who it is dealing with. Furthermore, this court, as long as I am sitting, has the highest respect for any religious tradition a person has, judge Murphy said.
"In my courtroom also, this sometimes conflicts with the interests of a paramount need for the administration of justice. In my courtroom, that's going to come first.
"There is the principle of open justice and it can't be subject to the religion of the defendant whether the principle is observed or not.
"I am not saying this because of the particular form of dress by this defendant, I apply that to any form of dress that had the same issues."