French Burqa Ban Upheld by European Court of Human Rights

Posted in Employment

The European Court of Human Rights has held that the ban in France on wearing a burqa or a niqab in public does not breach human rights laws.

The Court ruled in the case brought by a devout French Muslim that there had been no violation of her right to respect for private and family life, no breach of her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and no breach of the prohibition of discrimination.

The Court accepted the French government’s argument that the veil ban was justified in the interests of social cohesion, but dismissed the argument of public safety stating that a full ban would not have been required to achieve that aim.

France has both the largest Muslim community in western Europe and some of the continent’s most restrictive laws about expressions of faith in public. It was the first European country to pass a law banning veils that conceal the face in public. Belgium adopted a similar ban in 2011. In Spain, the city of Barcelona and some other towns have brought in similar bans, as have some towns in Italy.

No such general ban applies in the UK, but institutions have discretion to impose their own dress codes.  Employers should take particular care when drafting dress codes to avoid being faced with a discrimination claim on the grounds of religion and belief.

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