In the Media

Magistrate walks out over Muslim woman's veil

PUBLISHED July 2, 2007

A magistrate is facing an inquiry after refusing to deal with a defendant wearing a full Muslim veil, the Judiciary of England and Wales said yesterday.

Ian Murray walked out of the case at Manchester magistrates' court yesterday because Zoobia Hussain, 32, of Crumpsall, Manchester, was covered by a hijab.

Hussain's lawyer, Judith Hawkins, said her client was "shocked and distressed" and found Mr Murray's treatment of her "insensitive and unacceptable".

Miss Hawkins said she would submit a formal written complaint to the court on Monday. When the complaint is received, the judiciary will launch an internal investigation into Mr Murray's behaviour, a spokesman said.

Miss Hawkins said yesterday: "She [Hussain] remains shocked and distressed. She suffered hurt feelings and felt intimidated and deeply embarrassed by the treatment she received at court.

"She is also concerned for the feelings of others who were present in court.

"She feels that the court's treatment of her was insensitive, unacceptable and against the traditions of fairness and equality that we have come to expect from our system of justice.

"She is angry that, as a result of the ensuing publicity, she has now had to explain to her children what happened."

Hussain, who is charged with criminal damage, covered her entire face apart from her eyes when she faced the three magistrates.

Mr Murray, a taxi driver from Cheadle Hulme, Stockport, who has served on the bench for 12 years, felt the way she was dressed raised identity issues but left the hearing without explaining why.

Before he walked out, Miss Hawkins told the bench that her client, as a practising Muslim, covered herself in public places where men were present.

A statement from the Judiciary of England and Wales said: "Mr Murray is concerned about questions of identity when the full veil is worn in court.

"However, he agrees that he acted unwisely in disqualifying himself without giving reasons, and acknowledges that he should have sought the advice of his legal adviser in court, and discussed the provisions of the national guidelines with his colleagues on the bench, before taking action.

"Mr Murray is supportive of those of different faiths and cultural traditions and acknowledges and regrets his action could be misinterpreted."

The judiciary's guidelines indicate situations should be judged on a case-by-case basis. But they state there should be a "willingness to accommodate different practices and approaches to religious and cultural observance", provided "justice can be properly served".

A spokesman for the Ramadhan Foundation said: "It is despicable that the judiciary is ignoring the guidelines about the wearing of the hijab set out only in February by the Judicial Studies Board.

"They require that magistrates and judges be 'sensitive' to a woman's religious requirement to wear the hijab and work around it when possible."

Hussain's case was adjourned until July 18.