Blind Justice?

The most senior judge in Britain has called for a ban on anyone wearing face veils in court. Lord Neuberger said “I can see serious difficulties with the idea that a witness should have her head covered where evidence is contested. The jury system works in this country by contested evidence being decided by witnesses giving evidence before a jury and having credibility weighed – and one factor taken into account is the impression the witness makes and that includes being able to see the witness’s face.”

Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has argued a similar point, saying that being able to see a person’s mouth is important for teaching. These are views which are shared by many who have expressed an opinion on the subject, but it seems to miss out on one very important factor and that is blindness.

There are blind students in schools, colleges, and universities up and down the country and whilst they may benefit from reasonable adjustments (such as Braille rather than print books), they are not unable to learn at all. They are fully able to engage with their studies and to achieve just as much as their sighted peers. We need only consider David Blunkett, who rose to one of the highest offices in the country as Home Secretary, to understand that seeing the mouth of your teacher is not a necessity in order to learn from them.

Similarly, blind people can be called upon for jury duty in just the same way as any sighted person is, and they would be enabled and encouraged to serve as a juror when this happens. Again, reasonable adjustments may need to be made in some cases, but sight of each witness’s face is by no means essential.

If blind people can learn from their teachers and judge the credibility of a witness’s evidence without ever seeing the faces of either of these people, then why is it necessary for those who routinely wear a face veil to remove it against their will for sighted people?

3 thoughts on “Blind Justice?

  1. I’ll ignore the snake oil salesman’s pitch that precedes it and just concentrate on the question posed in the last paragraph.
    The answer: for the same reason that swallows cannot hunt insects at night while bats can.

    • I find it ironic that you exercise your right to ignore certain elements of my post but refer to them as a snake oil pitch without explaining why you think this is so, effectively denying me the same opportunity to choose whether to ignore or engage. Nevertheless, I will engage with the element you did choose to elaborate upon. Frankly I think your analogy is extremely flawed. Swallows and bats hunt at different times because bats have an innate sense which swallows do not. Whilst it is true that blind people sometimes find their remaining senses becoming more acute, it is very rare for a person to develop sonar, etc. Whilst a blind person may have an advantage over a sighted person at interpreting the voice of a speaker whose face cannot be seen, the sighted person can overcome this disadvantage by simply making an effort to focus on the voice over facial expression.

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