Has anyone ever looked you in the face and lied? In addition to the Jack Straw brouhaha, a few cases of women wanting to wear niqab (face covering veil) in court have recently been written up in the media. I think that so far all of these cases have resulted in the women having been denied the right to wear the veil and I’m pretty sure the rulings have all been based on the judges’ inability to judge the woman’s demeanor, such as the reasoning in this current case:
“Lawyers representing the two defendants argued that this infringes on their fair trial rights and argued at the preliminary hearing last fall that they should be allowed to see the woman’s face to gauge her demeanor while testifying. Provincial court Justice Norris Weisman agreed with the defence and ruled that the woman should testify without the niqab.”
As a layperson, I’m guessing that the courtroom must be just about the most stressful situation to function within and thereby would be a poor arena in which to judge one’s “normal” character or demeanor–especially the demeanor of someone who alleges rape. Whether she is telling the truth or lying, it seems she would be quite uncomfortable.
Though I don’t choose to wear the niqab (face veil) I support a woman’s choice to wear it-especially as an American. I would likewise support a man’s choice to wear a hat in court, as social mores such as removing hats while indoors are possibly nice in manners but should not be policed by the state. Some schools have enforced dress codes to prevent students from being distracted, but ultimately this is a symptom of other problems that I doubt dress codes will fix. The right to wear what you want is a very American value and I appreciate that it has yet to deteriorate to accepting public nudity, but I digress.
I must have erroneously assumed that the bulk of judicial decisions, if not all, were based on empirical evidence—not opinion of a defendant’s or plaintiff’s character. I am quite surprised by how much weight is being put into the judge’s inability to judge the defendant’s demeanor because of her face being obscured. ”Most liars can fool most people most of the time,” says Paul Ekman, a psychologist at the University of California at San Francisco.
Do you think judges are specially trained to detect lying based on demeanor? Actually, demeanor would mostly be body language which is not obscured by a face veil. So really facial expression seems to be the crux of this problem. Here is a list of stimulus researchers use to detect lying: Gaze Aversion, Speech Rate, Smiles, Illustrators, Self-Manipulations, Hand/Finger Movements, Foot/Leg Movements, Speech Hesitations, Speech Errors and also Criteria-Based Content Analysis which is all content stuffs like Contextual Embedding, Coherence, Spontaneous Reproduction, Peripheral Detail, etc. So how many of these elements would be obscured by a face-veil? By my count–just the smile. Though I hear it is easy enough to see if a woman in niqab is smiling, especially the more mature in age she is.
I’m not convinced that the veil would obstruct justice as some have been arguing. I believe a woman with a veiled face would make some justices uncomfortable; but this puts the veiled woman at risk of receiving the injustice of a biased judge. Here is another smart(er) response to this problem from lawyer and educator Steven Lubert who says of a judge in these cases, “This would be a good time for Judge Paruk to realize that Themis, the goddess of justice, wears a blindfold for a reason.” True that.