Oz court asks Muslim woman to depose without face veil

A Muslim witness in Australian fraud trial must remove burqa, a judge rules.

Last Updated: Aug 19, 2010, 12:32 PM IST

Melbourne: In a latest ruling, an Australian court has asked a Muslim woman witness in a fraud case to appear before it without a face covering veil in the interest of a fair trial.

Judge Shauna Deane on Thursday ruled that the witness must remove her `niqab`, or face covering veil when she gives evidence to the jury, according to media reports from Perth.

Deane said her decision should not set a legal precedent, as it was simply her ruling in these circumstances. The judge said that in the interest of a fair trial the witness should not be allowed to wear a niqab.

The 36-year-old woman, an Islamic studies teacher, is due to give evidence for the prosecution in the fraud trial of college director, Anwar Sayed.

In court, defence lawyer Mark Trowell, QC, said the woman`s wish to wear the burqa was a "preference she has".

"It`s not an essential part of the Islamic faith. If she was in an Islamic court she would be required to remove it," he said.

Judge Deane replied, "This isn`t an Islamic court". Defence lawyers had raised concerns about how the jury could be expected to read the woman`s facial expressions if they could not see her face.

Prosecutor Mark Ritter, SC, told the court the woman wanted to give evidence but would feel uncomfortable without the burqa and that could affect her evidence.

"It goes beyond stress... it would have a negative impact," Ritter said, pointing out that the woman, who has lived in Australia for seven years, had worn the burqa since the age of 17 and went without it only before her family.

"Female modesty is a very important part of the religion," he said.

Tasneem was an Islamic studies teacher at the Muslim Ladies College of Australia in Kenwick, south of Perth, in 2006. The school is run by Muslim Link Australia, and Sayed is the director.

He is accused of fraudulently obtaining up to USD 752,000 from a total of USD 1.125 million in state and federal grants for the school by falsifying entrance numbers.

PTI