Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen has set up a new coordination committee in order to overrule the Court Administration's decision to allow judges to wear a hijab and other religious symbols. After meeting with the committee Espersen said that they starting point is that judges should appear neutral and completely objective. Before deciding on a solution, though, they will check what is happening in other countries.
The Court Administration's decision is not popular among either the general population or jurists.
According to a Rambøll/Jyllands-Posten survey of 770 people, 61% were against judges with headscarves, 35% didn't see a problem with it. However, among youth (18-25), 75% said they wouldn't mind a judge with a headscarf. Among people over 65, only 16% said the same.
The Danish Bar and Law Society said such a decision should go through the political process.
The 11 member leadership of the judge's association had passed a resolution already in the summer saying that judges should be neutral in every way. Though headscarves and other religious symbols were not mentioned specifically, the decision said that a judge shall judge according to the law, and that alone and should ensure through his conduct that the law is seen as dignified, neutral and nonpartisan. Judges shouldn't judge according to their own beliefs and opinions, and make sure that the citizens have confidence in the courts.
Deputy chairman Mikael Sjöberg says that the issue is about what a suspect sees, and that he shouldn't think the decision is colored by religious or political beliefs.
However, Law students questioned by Nyehedsavisen thought there was no reason to ban a judge from wearing a hijab and that doing otherwise would be discrimination. One student said that if a hijab is accepted elsewhere in society, it should be accepted in court as well. Another says that it just shows a person is a Muslim and has nothing to do with their job qualifications.
The leader of the Social Democrats said they will fully support the government's initiative, but Svend Auken, member of the parliament's presidency for the Social Democrats, thinks the government shouldn't get involved with the Court Administration's decision, in order to keep the court's independence. Several other members of the party agree with him.
The Danish People's Party is starting off an ad campaign in newspapers under the slogan "Give us Denmark back".
'With Sharia law the country shall be built'
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Peter Skaarup, deputy chairman of the Danish People's Party (DPP) says that the veil is a symbol of submission and Islamism. People shouldn't accept a judge who comes with political or religious manifestations - a hijab as well as a DPP T-shirt.
According to Danish news agency Ritzau's sources, the DPP is getting concerned that the prime minister has become more and more lax in the called culture war since the Mohamed crisis.
Meanwhile, the DPP is demanding a ban be enacted for all public employees, including teachers, police officers, soldiers, doctors and nurses, and any other public employee fulfilling a government task. Skaarup says that it gives people a feeling of insecurity, because they see a woman with a hijab as being oppressed.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen rejected the DPP's proposal to ban the veil for other groups of public employees or government personnel. He says that in Denmark clothing is a personal decision, but that when it comes to judges there's the consideration of neutrality.
According to jurist Tyge Trier, there is precedence for laws banning judges from wearing religious symbols, and that in two cases, the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg rejected petitions to say such laws were against human rights.
There is also precedence for headscarf wearing judges, in Muslim countries. According to Islamic law expert Karen-Lise Johansen Karman, of the Aarhus Univerity theological faculty, Muslim women are not barred from serving as judges and there are female judges in 20 Muslim countries. The first female judge in Egypt was appointed in 2003, and a year ago 30 more women were appointed, most of whom wear a veil. The decision was supported by a fatwa from the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa.
Rubya Mehdi, Islamic law expert from Copenhagen University, says that people think Muslim women with a veil can't think judicially or work together with men and that when they wear a veil they are segregated and oppressed, but that is not true. Why should there be problems with hijab wearing judges in Denmark when we can see that they work in courts without problems in Muslim countries?
Sources: DR 1, 2; Berlingske 1, 2; Kristeligt Dagblad, Nyhedsavisen (Danish), Copenhagen Post (English)
See also: Denmark: Debate about headscarf in court