Muslim woman from Sheffield told to remove veil in court case over estranged husband

A judge has explained why she decided a Muslim woman should remove a veil when giving evidence at a virtual High Court hearing.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 8:00 am

The woman was embroiled in a dispute over children with her estranged husband.

Deputy High Court Judge Sarah Morgan, based in London, had overseen an online private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court.

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A cordon of police tape (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)

Barrister Alistair Perkins, who represented the woman, said she did not wish to be seen “unveiled” by male participants at the hearing, unless the judge thought it “necessary”.

Judge Morgan decided the woman should uncover her face when giving evidence, and when her estranged husband was giving evidence, but not at other times during the hearing.

She said the woman had appreciated male barristers would wish to see her face

Judge Morgan heard that the couple had lived in Sheffield when together – the woman was from Yemen and the man from Somalia.

She heard that the woman, who came to the UK nearly 20 years ago as a refugee, was an “adherent Muslim” who ordinarily covered her face.

Judge Morgan, who heard evidence at a hearing late in 2020, has outlined detail of her decisions in a written judgment published online.

She said the family involved could not be identified in media reports of the case.

The judge concluded that the man had wrongly removed children from their mother’s care and taken them abroad.

Judge Morgan had been asked to make a decision about where further hearings should be staged, and concluded that courts in England and Wales had jurisdiction.

The woman alleged that her husband had been controlling when they were together, and would not even let her put the bin out without him being present.

He denied he was controlling.

“The mother is an adherent Muslim who ordinarily covers her face,” said Judge Morgan in her ruling.

“At the start of the hearing Mr Perkins raised with me her wish not to be seen unveiled by male participants at this hearing unless I directed that it was necessary, and in the event that I did regard it as so, to limit the parts of the hearing when it was necessary and to limit her visibility to a restricted group of the participants.

“It was a matter of regret to me that the unusual circumstances of the Covid-19 arrangements meant that it was not possible to balance as keenly as would ordinarily be the case the sensitivities of all concerned.

“I was sympathetic to the submission made on the mother’s behalf, that whilst she appreciated that the male counsel acting would wish to see her face, it was not necessary for all other male participants to the hearing to see her.”

Judge Morgan directed that the woman would uncover her face when giving “her own oral evidence” as well as when her estranged husband was giving his oral evidence but at all other times would not be required to uncover her face.

She acknowledged however that the situation was “far from ideal”.

Judge Morgan said at one point during the hearing, the woman had been in a room with her female solicitor and thought she could not be seen on screen, but had been “visible to all”.

The judge added that was “an unfortunate consequence of the remote platform”.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.