The hard-drinking, hush puppy wearing former Home Secretary Ken Clarke has come out against witnesses being allowed to wear a veil in court. I suspect his targets here are the followers of Islam, rather than peri-nuptial brides. Would he also require the extravagantly bearded to be shaved? In some cases, this is nearly as concealing a veil and the beard seems to be on rise in this country – something I always like to imagine is an act of solidarity between the young and soi-disant hip and their Muslim brothers.
This started me thinking as to whether it was appropriate to insist that witnesses unveil themselves for court. The issue seems to be the importance that the court, for which I presume we must read the jury, attaches to being able to see the face of a witness during their testimony. I suspect this might not be quite such a good idea as is commonly thought.
Examination papers have for many years, at least dating back to the early 80s, been completely anonymised so that candidates are only identified by a number (which could explain Patrick McGoohan’s lack of examination success). This is an attempt to prevent examiners being influenced – consciously or otherwise – by their prejudices when marking a paper. I am fairly sure we are all prejudiced against some groups of people (I certainly am, though sometimes am self-aware enough to recognise this fact). We are also wildly over-confident in our ability to detect falsehood in others and can be very quick to judge a person’s character (and much more) from a brief glimpse of their phizog.
To avoid the jury bringing all of this baggage to their evaluation of the evidence placed before them, it strikes me that ALL witnesses should be veiled – whether their religion, martial status or personal preference requires it or not. Clearly, at some stage they would have to prove their identity (though on the basis of my passport photo, I’m not convinced that seeing the face is as much help as is often imagined), but on the basis of my extensive knowledge of the court system (watching and reading quite a lot of detective drama) this is not generally done in front of the jury.
It would also be nice for the witnesses to join in with the fancy dress element which seems so important in the courts in this country – though, I suppose it may risk leaving the jury feeling rather left out.
I went on to wonder if the voices of witnesses should also be concealed (a ring-modulator perhaps? Or would the dalek effect by too distracting?) to avoid bias seeping in through that route?
The regular reader will have, of course, recognised that this post is mostly an attempt to wangle an invite to appear on the next series of Heresy to allow me to hob-nob (or enjoy any other biscuit) with Victoria Coren Mitchell. Well, you can’t blame a chap for trying…