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Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision on Face-Coverings like the Niqab

Edward Prutschi discusses today’s Supreme Court of Canada decision outline the circumstances where a woman would have to remove religious face-coverings like the Niqab in order to testify in court.

Mr. Prutschi gives an in-depth and concise analysis on the Supreme Court of Canada’s split decision outlining where a woman would have to remove religious face-coverings like the niqab in order to testify in court. The Supreme Court of Canada produced a split decision on whether a woman is obligated to testify in court like the niqab, a veil that covers the face. The high court ruled that the decision on whether a witness can wear face-coverings must be made on a case-to-case basis and must be left within the jurisdiction of the trial judge. On behalf of the majority, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin rejected extreme approaches that would require a witness remove her niqab at all times while testifying or permit her to never remove it. They rationalized that the trial judge was in the best position to deliberate on this matter.

The Supreme Court judges did however give direction and said that the judges must consider the sincerity of the witnesses’ religious belief and that must be weighed and balanced against how important and central the witnesses’ testimony is to trial in cases where a serious deprivation of the clients’ liberty is at risk (ie: a jail sentence).  Essentially, freedom of religion must be balanced against the fair trial right to confront one’s accuser and in the judges’ decision in that particular case. Mr. Prutschi also shares his experiences on why the question of covering one’s face during the trial is an important one discussing his own extensive experience cross-examining complainant witnesses in serious cases such as sexual assault.

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