(Australia): Western Australia District Court Judge
Shauna Deane said it would be inappropriate for the woman to testify
with her face covered but didn’t specify what the woman could wear.
The judge said the woman’s decision to
wear the burqa came down to “reasons of modesty” and a “personal
preference” in her interpretation of Islam, rather than a religious
Defence attorneys argued the jury needs to be able to see the
witness’s facial expressions to assess what she says, while
prosecutors said the woman’s discomfort without the garment could
affect her testimony.
The judge then stressed that her decision applied only to this case
and wasn’t setting a precedent for other courts, but the issue has
sparked national interest and drawn comparisons to France and
Belgium, where there are efforts to ban the wearing of Islamic face
In Australia, some Muslims wear head
scarves, but burqas are almost never worn.
The woman is an Islamic studies teacher who has only been identified
by her first name, Tasneem. She is 36, has lived in Australia for
seven years and has worn a burqa since she was 17.
She is a prosecution witness in a case against the director of a
company that ran a Muslim women’s college in Perth.
The director, Anwar Sayed, is accused
of inflating the number of students at the school in 2006 and 2007
to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal
Prosecutor Mark Ritter told the court Tasneem generally only removes
the burqa when she is with her family.
The judge did not say whether the woman would be able to testify via
The burqa debate has prompted comments from politicians campaigning
ahead of Australia’s federal election on Saturday.
Earlier this month, opposition leader
Tony Abbott, who hopes to become prime minister, said he found the
garments “confronting” and wished fewer Australians wore them.