European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

Belgium: Courtroom ban on woman wearing Islamic headscarf breached human rights law

Judges ruled today that Belgian authorities were  wrong to exclude from a courtroom a woman who refused to remove her Islamic headscarf (hijab).

Hagar Lachiri was banned from attending courtroom proceedings involving the man accused in the death of her brother.

In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of Lachiri v. Belgium (application no. 3413/09) the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority (six votes to one), that there had been:
a violation of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the court held (by six votes to one) that Belgium was to pay Lachiri 1,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

The court found that the exclusion of Lachiri – an ordinary citizen, not representing the state – from the courtroom had amounted to a “restriction” on the exercise of her right to manifest her religion.

It also held that the restriction had pursued the legitimate aim of “protecting public order”, with a view to preventing conduct that was disrespectful towards the judiciary and/or disruptive of the proper conduct of a hearing.

The court found, however, that Lachiri’s conduct on entering the courtroom had not been disrespectful and had not constituted – or been liable to constitute – a threat to the proper conduct of the hearing.

The court therefore held that the need for the restriction in question had not been established and that the infringement of Lachiri’s right to freedom to manifest her religion was not justified in a democratic society.

The case concerned Mrs Lachiri’s exclusion from a courtroom on account of her refusal to remove her hijab.

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