European Court of Human Rights to give judgment concerning the prohibition
on wearing the full-face veil in public in France
On Tuesday 1 July 2014 at 11am the Grand Chamber will promulgate its much awaited judgment in the case of S.A.S. v. Republic of France. The case was heard by the full court on Wednesday 27 November 2013 and concerns the complaint of a French national who is a practising Muslim, that she is no longer allowed to wear the full-face veil in public following the entry into force, in April 2011, of a law prohibiting concealment of one’s face in public places.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 11 April 2011. On 28 May 2013 the Chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.
The Claimant is co-represented by Tony Muman of 43templerow chambers, Birmingham who argued:
“Life under the French ban is full of contradictions, perversity, inequalities and absurdity. Comedy, Satire and the Arts are given greater credence under the law than fundamental Convention rights. Wit and humour are given greater priority under the law than deeply and sincerely held religious belief and cultural practice. The choice to dress in a certain way for party reasons is given greater protection under the law than compulsion for religious and or cultural reasons to dress in a particular way.
The inescapable reality is that the manifestation of certain religious beliefs, to which the majority subscribe, is given greater respect under the law than the religious beliefs of others who fall within the minority.
S.A.S. is prepared to compromise. She is willing to remove her veil when there is a pressing social need and she is willing to wear a veil which strikes a fair balance between visibility and modesty. It is the State that has been overtly oppressive on the one hand whereas S.A.S. has offered compromise on the other.
S.A.S. underscores the reality that veil wearing Muslim ladies are no less patriotic about the Republic than their non-veil wearing comparators. Yet it is this group that has acutely felt the effect of the ban more than any other. In reality the law operates to prosecute the persecuted; it has had the effect of ostracising minority communities all the more and moreover ostracising the veil-wearing minority within that ostracised community.
Perversely the French ban has heightened racial tensions, brought about hostility and made society all the more intolerant.”
S.A.S. is a French national who was born in 1990 and lives in France.
Under Law no. 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010, which entered into force on 11 April 2011, it is prohibited for anyone to conceal their face in public places in France.
S.A.S. is a devout Muslim. She wears the burqa and niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions. She explained to the court that the burqa is a full-body covering including a mesh over the face, and the niqab is a full-face veil leaving an opening only for the eyes. She emphasised that neither her husband nor any other member of her family puts pressure on her to dress in this manner. She added that she wears the niqab in public and in private, but not systematically and was thus content not to wear the niqab in certain circumstances but wished to be able to wear it when she chooses to do so. Lastly, her aim was not to annoy others but to feel at inner peace with herself.
Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), S.A.S. complained that as it is prohibited by law, on pain of criminal sanctions, to wear a garment designed to conceal the face in public places, she risks not only incurring such a sanction but also suffering harassment and discrimination, if she wears the full-face veil.
Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), she also complained that the statutory prohibition on the wearing in public places of a garment designed to conceal the face prevents her from dressing in public as she chooses.
Under Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), S.A.S. complained of a violation of her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as a result of the same circumstances. In her view, her inability to wear the full-face veil in public places is incompatible with the freedom to manifest her religion or belief individually or collectively, in public or in private, by worship, teaching, practice and observance of rites.
Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), she complained of a violation of her right to freedom of expression, as a result of the same circumstances and because she is thus unable to wear in public a garment that expresses her faith and religious, cultural and personal identity.
Relying on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), she further complained of a violation of her right to freedom of assembly and association, as a result of the same circumstances, and of the fact that she is prevented from assembling with others in public wearing the full-face veil.
Lastly, under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), S.A.S. complained that the statutory prohibition on wearing a garment designed to conceal one’s face in public places gives rise to discrimination based on gender, religion and ethnic origin, to the detriment of women who, like herself, wear the full-face veil.
This is an international case, the outcome of which will have wide-reaching repercussions. For further information concerning this case or any other public law matters, please contact Mr Muman via his clerks or on 0121 237 6035