MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron said on Sunday Britain should not follow other European countries and ban Islamic face veils but certain institutions such as schools and courts should be allowed to set their own rules.
The issue of Muslim women wearing full veils has risen up the agenda after a judge ruled that a woman could not give evidence at a trial wearing a niqab and a school tried to ban veils before backtracking due to heavy criticism and protests.
One cabinet minister also suggested the British government should consider a full ban.
“We are a free country and people should be free to wear whatever clothes they like in public or in private,” Cameron told BBC Television on the first day of the annual Conservative party conference in Manchester.
“But we should support institutions that need to put in place rules so that those institutions can work properly. In court a jury needs to be able to look at someone’s face.”
Britain, which is looking at ways to better integrate its 2.7 million Muslims without restricting the right to freedom of religious expression, has avoided following France and Belgium, where it is illegal for women to wear full-face veils in public.
France introduced its law in 2010, saying the adoption of burqa and niqab garments that conceal the face went against the country’s traditions and values. But the ruling has remained controversial and rioting occurred near Paris in July this year after a police check on a woman.
The British judge who made the recent court ruling has said he hoped parliament would provide a definitive verdict and Cameron said he would be very happy to look at the need for national guidelines.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, writing by Kate Holton, editing by Mark Heinrich