Another four easy pieces

Starting with wearing the niqab in court, moving to messing up prisoner disenfranchisement, passing through justifying yet more limits on election day activity, and finishing with a new theme song for Apple.

Jane already has posted on Quebec's proposed law to regulate religious symbols worn by public servants, so I'll simply add this link to a CBC article in which a Canadian attempts to explain the measure to his American neighbours. But in a similar "what place should religious values have in a secular society?" vein, the United Kingdom has gotten itself into a bit of a tizzy over a judge's ruling that a muslim woman must remove her niqab (or burqa) when testifying as a defendant in a criminal case (whilst doing so behind a screen, so that only the jury, judge and lawyers can see her face).

There's an account of the issue from The Guardian here, while the Telegraph covers it here. The story even made the international sections of the NZ Herald here.

What seems odd to me is that this is still considered "news", much less groundbreaking news. After all, New Zealand faced exactly the same issue (and resolved it in exactly the same way) back in 2005. And a Western Australian judge did the same thing in 2010, while in December 2012 the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that courts can (on a case by case basis) decide whether the interests of justice require a woman to remove her veil before testifying. In April of this year, a Toronto judge applied this test and ordered a witness in a sexual assault case give evidence without her niqab on.

So the basic issue has been thrashed out and resolved in the much same way around the anglosphere - a witness can be required to remove her niqab before giving evidence, albeit with some measures taken to minimise the range of strangers who are able to view her face whilst she does so. It would only have been "news" had the British courts decided something different.

What is perhaps "newsworthy" is the response to the United Kingdom decision. Here in New Zealand, Judge Linsey Moore's 2005 decision was greeted as pretty much a common sense balancing of the different values at stake. The woman involved in the decision even was quoted as thanking:

"the people of New Zealand for understanding our cultural sensitivities and for having respect for our customs. Also, special thanks to the judge for making a fair decision that made it easy for me and other Muslim women to give evidence in the future."

And while the lawyer for the accused continued to complain that his client was not permitted to view the witness while she testified, I can't help wonder if this wasn't a case of counsel pushing a point in a case where the overall defence was not strong.

However, in the United Kingdom, the judge's compromise position seems to have satisfied no-one. The National Secular Society apparently plans to complain to the Office of Judicial Complaints about the decision (on the grounds that the faces of those involved in criminal trials should be visible at all times), whilst the Muslim Council of Britain also thinks the decision is wrong (because women should be permitted to wear the niqab in the witness box if they so wish).

Sigh. Who would be a judge? And whatever happened to that great British tradition of tolerance and good natured, paractical compromise? I blame the immigrants, I do.


In other legal news, Graeme Edgeler has demonstrated the power of sheer inquisitiveness and the Official Information Act by winkling out the news that National/ACT's decision back in 2010 to change the law to remove the right to vote from all serving prisoners has actually had the effect of restoring it to a few inmates presently in jail serving sentences of life imprisonment.

Sure, it is an inadvertent mistake. And sure, the numbers of inmates involved aren't that great. But still, it means that Paul Quinn's sole contribution to public life in New Zealand was to author a law that gave the right to vote back to people like this, whilst taking it away from people like this. Now there's an epitaph for your tombstone.


Following up on a matter I've posted on previously, I see Andrew Little has told Radio NZ that "the Government is picking a battle if it tries to ban the wearing of party rosettes or ribbons on election day." That's good, because I can't for the life of me see any reason for this move (aside from the fact that some people complained about it at the last election, and the Electoral Commission doesn't like getting complaints). I plan on telling the Justice and Electoral Committee that, when it asks for submissions on the Electoral Amendment Bill.

What is interesting at the moment, however, is that this Bill has come into the House without a NZBORA s.7 notice from the Attorney-General attached. Which means that someone from Crown Law must think that the limit on the right to freedom of expression involved in fining people for wearing a NZ First lapel pin on election day can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. When the Ministry of Justice gets around to putting that advice up on its website, I'll be very interested to see how they managed to come to this conclusion.


Finally, I can't help but notice that Apple has come up with another "must have!" "greatest ever!" variant of its I-Phone. Given that company's tendency to appropriate pop-culture to market its products, can I suggest this song for it's current advertising campaign?