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Magistrate in veil case row

The Manchester Evening News reports as follows:

A MAGISTRATE could face disciplinary action after refusing to deal with a defendant - because she was wearing a full Muslim veil.

Ian Murray, a taxi driver who has served on the bench for 12 years, stunned the Manchester court by withdrawing from the case, saying: "I do not feel I have to give any reasons. This is my personal view."

The defendant - Zoobia Hussain, of Crumpsall - was later heard telling her solicitor that Mr Murray's behaviour had been `scandalous'.

Manchester Magistrates' Court issued a statement last night saying Mr Murray had been concerned about 'questions of identity', but accepted he acted 'unwisely' in leaving without giving his reasons.

Sources at the Judiciary of England and Wales said he could still face an inquiry - and possible disciplinary action - if Ms Hussain's lawyers made a formal complaint.

It is understood they are preparing a letter expressing `concern' about events which is expected to trigger the inquiry.

Mr Murray was sitting with two other magistrates when Ms Hussain, 32, appeared in a niqab - a veil which covers the entire face except for the eyes - to answer a charge of criminal damage, which she denies.

The story is also reported in The Sun, the BBC and Asian Image. The reporting is, I think, rather misleading, as it suggests that an investigation will definitely take place. In fact, an investigation may only take place if there is thought to be personal misconduct. My understanding from jury service is that judges and magistrates have discretion about the decisions they make in their courts. Detailed guidelines about this can be found in this post.

On the specific matter of the face veil, in my opinion there should be no question of witnesses, defendants or even jurors being allowed to wear it in court. We need to see people's faces.