Canadian judges should decide on a case-by-case basis whether women can wear the niqab, a full-face veil, while testifying in court, but a blanket rule on the issue would be “untenable,” Canada’s top court said on Thursday.
The decision, supported by four of the seven judges who heard the case at the Supreme Court of Canada, said lower courts must consider, among other things, the harm that could come if Muslim women who wear the niqab feel discouraged from reporting offenses.
But the ruling also said that where a witness’s credibility is central to the case, “the possibility of wrongful conviction must weigh heavily in the balance.” Judges must also consider the sincerity of a witness’s religious beliefs.
The court dismissed an appeal from a woman, known only by the initials N.S., who accused an uncle and a cousin of sexual assault and wished to testify wearing a niqab. A preliminary inquiry judge ordered her to remove the veil when she testified, and appeals pushed the case to the Supreme Court.