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File photo of a Muslim woman wearing a facial veil.
File photo of a Muslim woman wearing a facial veil.
Image: Shakil Adil/AP/Press Association Images

Police in New South Wales granted new powers to remove face veils

Police in Australia’s most populous state will now be permitted to demand that a woman remove her face covering when investigating minor offences.
Jul 5th 2011, 11:07 AM 941 10

POLICE IN THE state of New South Wales in Australia have been granted new powers to remove facial coverings, such as Islamic face veils, in order to identify crime suspects.

Currently, police in Australia’s most populous state can ask women to remove facial coverings only as part of investigations into serious crimes; the new law will extend the powers of the police to make similar demands when questioning motorists.

The move follows a recent high-profile case in which a Muslim woman, Carnita Matthews, was acquitted by a judge who concluded her face covering made identification impossible, the BBC reports. Matthews had been sentenced to six moths in jail for falsely accusing a police officer of trying to forcibly remove her veil during a random breath test on a roadside.

Local Islamic leaders have welcomed the new measures, and one NSW local told SBS.com: “The law, as it stands, (means) if you’re wearing a helmet you can’t walk into a bank, and therefore if you need to be identified you should show your face”.

Premier for New South Wales Barry O’Farrell also expressed support for the new measures, saying: “I have every respect for various religions and beliefs but when it comes to enforcing the law the police should be given adequate powers to make a clear identification.”

The Muslim Women’s Association cautiously welcomed the measures, providing that women were treated with respect by police.

Meanwhile the West Australian government is also considering extending the powers of police in relation to roadside identification, with WA Police Minister Rob Johnson saying he was “concerned” with the current situation, reports ABC.net. “I will be looking closely at the New South Wales legislation to see exactly what they’ve done,” he said.

Johnson added that, if the measures were adopted by the WA police force, procedures would be carried out with sensitivity: “We would try and ensure some sensitivity in relation to anybody that, for religious reasons or any other reasons, would find it difficult to remove their head gear or clothing or helmets that cover their heads and particularly their faces,” he said.

Read more: France’s face veil ban takes effect today >

Read more: Syria reverses ban on Islamic face veil >

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Jennifer Wade

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