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France’s Top Court Upholds Ban on Barristers’ Hijab in Lille Courts

Muslim Barrister Contemplates Taking Fight to European Court of Human Rights

Setting a precedent in the country, a French highest court has decided to uphold a ban on barristers wearing hijab in courtrooms in the north of the country. 

Wednesday’s ruling by France’s Court of Cassation came on the case brought by Sarah Asmeta, a 30-year-old French-Syrian lawyer, who challenged the rule set by the Bar Council of Lille that bars hijab and religious symbols in courts.

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In its ruling, the Court of Cassation said the ban was “necessary and appropriate, on the one hand to preserve the independence of the lawyer and, on the other, to guarantee the right to a fair trial.”

Banning the wearing of religious symbols “does not constitute discrimination,” it added.

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Asmeta said she was shocked and disappointed with the ruling.

“Why does covering my hair stop my client from the right to a free trial?” she told Reuters.

“My clients are not children. If they choose me as their lawyer, with my veil, then it is their choice.”

She added she was contemplating taking her fight to the European Court of Human Rights.

What Muslim women choose to wear is a controversial topic in France. In 2004, it banned hijab in public schools, and in 2010, it became the first European nation to ban burqa, which covers a woman’s face.

Currently in France, a majority of Bar Councils, including the largest in Paris, have internal rules that do not allow religious symbols such as hijab.

Of Bar Councils representing 75% of practitioners, 56% have banned religious symbols to be worn with the gown, according to a survey requested by Poirret for this case.