Police seek law change to lift veils
Carnita Matthews, right, leaves court on Monday. Photo: Nick Moir
THE state government is seeking advice on new laws that would extend police powers to ask traffic offenders to remove a face veil for identification.
Islamic scholars and organisations met in Lakemba on Wednesday night to discuss this week's court case involving a Muslim woman, Carnita Matthews, who successfully appealed her conviction for falsely accusing a police officer of trying to rip off her veil.
The Islamic Council of NSW said yesterday in a statement prepared after the meeting that all Australians, regardless of ethnicity or faith, were required to respect and abide by the law.
A Muslim woman was permitted by Islam to remove her face covering in the presence of a male officer for the purposes of identification, the council said.
It also said the community condemned ''any provocative behaviour that may result in inciting hatred in the community or provoking societal unrest on the basis of religious or ethnic stereotyping or vilification''.
The president of the Police Association of NSW, Scott Weber, called yesterday for the introduction of new laws that would allow police to ask for the removal of a veil or a helmet.
''If a motorist gives a police officer a driver's licence, the officer must have some way of confirming that the licence belongs to that person,'' he said. ''Facial recognition is obviously the easiest way to do that, so police officers should be able to ask a person to remove a veil or helmet if they are wearing one.
''At present, this power is only available for police to use in relation to criminal offences. It's time to extend that power to include traffic offences as well.''
A spokesman for the NSW Minister for Police, Mike Gallagher, said the association's position was consistent with that of the government. ''We will be asking the police commissioner to identify any deficiencies in the existing legislation,'' he said.
''We are supportive of any recommendation that will allow the police to be able to identify an individual in these circumstances.''
The president of Muslims Australia, Ikebal Patel, said his organisation supported law enforcement agencies in finding a solution that protected the community and respected the rights of Muslim women. Alternative identification methods included fingerprinting and retina scanning.
The Islamic Council of NSW suggested a woman could be escorted to a police station to be identified by a female officer if she refused to remove her face covering if a female officer was not present.
The president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, Samier Dandan, said the issue had been blown out of proportion.
''We are not saying that the Muslim community should be treated any differently, but we live in a multicultural society and we just need to be wise and calm about how we can address this,'' he said.
The lawyer and author Randa Abdel-Fattah, a Muslim who does not wear a headscarf or face veil, said one person's interaction with the law was driving knee-jerk policy decisions.
''I think if you spoke to most Muslim women who wear the face veil - and again it's such a small minority - I honestly think that most of them would not have an issue [removing it] if it was done sensibly, if it was required by the law,'' she said.