23/08/2013 09:13 BST | Updated 23/08/2013 09:19 BST

Muslim Woman Told To Remove Burka In Court, Because Judge Must Confirm Identity

A British Muslim women in a niqab (file photo)

A young Muslim woman in a burka was told by the judge to take off her face veil, as she took to the dock to enter her plea, because someone could impersonate her.

Judge Peter Murphy at Blackfriars Crown Court said the principle of open justice overrode the woman’s right to her religious beliefs, but the woman, 21, from Hackney, refused to remove the covering in front of men in the court room, Court News UK reported.

The woman is accused of allegedly intimidating a witness, involved in a separate case, in June this year.

Judge Murphy told the woman, who had only her eyes uncovered, that she must remove the veil, saying : "It is necessary for this court to be satisfied that they can recognise the defendant.

"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."

Official guidelines from the Ministry of Justice for the wearing of the niqab in court were published in 2007. It states: "A sensitive request to remove a veil may be appropriate, but should follow careful thought as attending court itself is a daunting prospect for witnesses, and may affect the quality of evidence given.

"Where identification is an issue, it must be dealt with appropriately and may require the witness to make a choice between showing her face or not giving evidence.

Prosecutor Sarah Counsell said the police officer in charge of the case was content that he recognised the defendant while she was in the burka, and the defendant had agreed to have a female police officer verify her identity.

But Judge Murphy said: "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."

The case was adjourned, and will reopen on 12 September.

Canada's top court ruled on Thursday that Muslim women wearing the niqab can be forced to remove their veils when testifying, but only if absolutely necessary and after any objections have been considered.