Face Covering and Court Systems

woman with Niqab - Update:  Niqab & Burkas Banned in Courts - Humintell The debate continues on whether or not facial coverings should be allowed in court trials.  The Independent, a UK newspaper, reports on this controversial issue that is still being determined case by case.

Judge Peter Murphy, a UK judge,  recently ruled that a defendant should be obliged to remove her niqab when giving evidence (back in September). He noted, If a fair trial is to take place, the jury… must be able to assess the credibility of the witnesses – to judge how they react to being questioned.”

He also quoted a New Zealand judge who listed some of the situations in which a witness’s demeanor might be a giveaway. The witness who moves from expressing himself calmly to an excited gabble,” for example; “the witness who from speaking clearly with good eye contact becomes hesitant and starts looking at his feet.

The issue with trying to focus on facial expressions by jurors in an effort to try to show deception is that assessing a face can distract, people [who without training are only about 50% accurate at detecting deception]  into looking at cues they think are associated with lying, and overlooking cues that actually are.” This is according to a meta-analysis of jury research cited by UCL professor, Richard Moorhead, on his blog Lawyer Watch.  Moorhead reported that not only did seeing a face not help assess a person’s truthfulness, it could actually be misleading.

Unfortunately, many people still believe the popular myths about deception such as looking up and to the left means your thinking of what to say; therefore, you’re lying.  Proper training needs to and should take place before a person tries to detect deception from not only facial expressions but any nonverbal behaviors.

On the other hand, an interesting question to look into would be ‘shouldn’t a person be required to open themselves up in a courtroom as a gesture that – Yes they will tell the truth, the whole truth.’  If it has been shown in previous studies that lying (even if just a white lie) is easier to commit over text or email (ie not a face to face interaction) then doesn’t it beg the question if having your face covered also makes it easier?

Judge Murphy was quick to point out that assessing a person’s nonverbal behavior (including facial expressions) has become apart of the justice system [It] is too deeply rooted in our criminal justice system to be set aside absent compelling evidence.

Should face coverings be allowed for an individual who is testifying in a court of law?

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