Court: Witnesses can be told to unveil

Oct. 13, 2010 at 6:25 PM
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TORONTO, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- A defendant's rights trump a Muslim woman's right to cover her face, a Canadian appeals court said Wednesday, ruling witnesses can be compelled to remove veils.

The Ontario Court of Appeal said trial judges must be sensitive to a witness's religious beliefs and only order removal of the niqab when necessary, The Toronto Globe and Mail reported. The court ruled 3-0 in a case in which a Muslim woman who said she had been sexually assaulted was ordered to remove the niqab, which covers the entire face.

The court ordered the trial judge to hold a hearing on whether the defendant's right to a fair trial would be jeopardized if the woman testified with a covered face.

The judges suggested the court system could take steps like using only female judges and court staff in cases with witnesses who cover their faces in public and barring most men from the courtroom while they are testifying.

The court acknowledged that in some cases a witness's real identity may be an issue and that juries, judges and lawyers often consider a witness's demeanor when evaluating testimony.

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