UK
17/09/2013 10:54 BST | Updated 17/09/2013 12:34 BST

Jack Straw: Muslim Face Veils Should Not Be Worn By Defendants In Court

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw has called for new laws on the wearing of the veil in court.

The Blackburn MP welcomed a ruling by a judge that a defendant should remove the niqab while giving evidence.

But he said it did not go far enough, saying the woman's face should be visible throughout the whole of the trial.

Straw sparked a worldwide debate in 2006 when he used his Lancashire Telegraph column to call on women to remove the veil when they visited his surgeries.

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In light of the row over the court case, and a Birmingham college's niqab ban, Straw has revisited the issue in Tuesday's Mail.

Recalling the row his column had sparked, he wrote: "My comments were modestly worded – expressing what I felt and not calling for any general ban (for I absolutely defend any woman’s right to wear the headscarf) – but they triggered an explosive reaction."

Straw said the judge, Peter Murphy, "showed great sensitivity" with his ruling, and said his ruling should be copied in all courts.

But he added "I would go further. Surely it is important that the facial reaction of a defendant is seen throughout the case and not just when she is giving evidence?

"This case has meant that the issue of women wearing veils in court is now a major national talking-point and we politicians have a duty to tackle it, too."

In the court case, the 22-year-old woman from London, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said it was against her religious beliefs to show her face in public.

But Murphy, sitting at London's Blackfriars Crown Court, ruled it was "crucial" for jurors to be able to see the defendant's face when giving evidence.

Lib Dem Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne stoked the row when he called for a national debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women having the veil imposed upon them.

Browne said he was ''instinctively uneasy'' about restricting religious freedoms but added there may be a case to act to protect girls who were too young to decide for themselves whether they wished to wear the veil or not.