Veil debate - court ruling sparks discussion over niqab

  • 17 September 2013
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Ricky explains why people are debating the niqab

A British judge has sparked a national debate about whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear full face veils in public.

Judge Peter Murphy decided that a woman who wears a niqab (veil) had to uncover her face to give evidence in court.

He said he needed to be able to see the woman's face to work out whether or not she was telling the truth.

Now there are calls for a debate on where exactly people should be allowed to cover their faces in public.

Explaining his decision Judge Murphy said: "The ability of the jury to see the defendant for the purposes of evaluating her evidence is crucial."

Now, the woman will have to remove her veil when she is giving evidence, but the judge said she could do this behind a screen or via video-link to protect her from public view.

What is a niqab?

A niqab is one of many different types of traditional dress that Muslim women wear.

It is said that headscarves protect the modesty of women, and it is most common for Muslim women to wear the garments only in public, and particularly when they are amongst men they do not know.

What's the difference between a hijab, a niqab and a burka?

Why the debate?

The judge's ruling has sparked a national discussion over whether he was right to force a Muslim woman to remove her veil, and whether the government should rule on the issue.

Many people argue that every individual has a right to dress how they please, especially if it is for religious reasons.

Others argue that in some public places, like in a courtroom, a hospital or even a classroom, it is important that people can see one another's faces.

What does the law say?

Here in the UK people generally have the freedom to wear whatever religious clothing they choose to.

Schools and businesses are allowed to set their own rules about what people wear, but they have to operate within laws that make sure they don't discriminate against people based on their religion.

There are strong views on both sides of this debate.

Some people feel that girls and women might be forced to cover their faces in public - and don't think this is right.

But many women feel they should have the right to wear what they like. For some, it is part of the Muslim faith to wear the garment, while others believe it is a cultural tradition.

Other countries

Some other countries have stricter rules than here in the UK.

In France and Belgium for example, women are banned from wearing the niqab in public, but the decision was controversial - and it led to big protests.