(Jan. 6, 2014) In October 2010, France enacted a law banning the concealment of one’s face in public (Loi n° 2010-1192 du 11 octobre 2010 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public [Law No. 2010-1192 of October 11, 2010, Banning Concealment of the Face in Public Places], LEGIFRANCE; see also Nicole Atwill, France: Law Prohibiting the Wearing of Clothing Concealing One’s Face in Public Spaces Found Constitutional, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 18, 2010)). This highly controversial law has recently been tested in a couple of different court cases involving women wearing a full Islamic veil.
The Tribunal correctionel (Criminal Court) of Versailles is currently examining the case of Cassandra Belin, a woman who is on trial for having refused to submit to a police identity check while she was wearing a full Islamic veil on a public street. (Procès de la femme voilée de Trappes: la question du voile intégral occuperales débats, BFMTV (Dec. 11, 2013).) Her trial has largely turned into a trial of the 2010 law itself, and Belin’s attorney has filed a question prioritaire de constitutionnalité (QPC) (Priority Constitutionality Question) in the hope that the law will be reexamined by the Conseil constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) and struck down. (Jérôme Sage, Trappes: le procès de Cassandra Belin tourne au débat sur la loi sur le voile intégral, LE FIGARO (Dec. 11, 2013); see also Nicole Atwill, France: Private Nursery School Internal Code of Conduct May Ban Display of Religious Attire, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Nov. 3, 2011).)
If the Criminal Court judge decides to approve the QPC, then the question will move on to the Cour de cassation (France’s supreme court for all legal issues except administrative law), which will decide whether it warrants being sent to the Conseil constitutionnel. (FAQ citoyens: La question prioritaire de constitutionalité (QPC), VIE PUBLIQUE (Sept. 4, 2012).)
European Court of Human Rights
The 2010 law is also being reviewed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which heard the case of S.A.S. vs. France (Application no. 43835/11) on November 27, 2013. (Press Release, ECHR, Grand Chamber Hearing Concerning the Prohibition on Wearing the Full-Face Veil in Public in France (Nov. 27, 2013), Council of Europe website.) The plaintiff, known only by her initials, is a Muslim woman who “wears the burqa and niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions.” (Id.) She filed her complaint before the ECHR on April 11, 2011, the day on which the 2010 law banning the public wearing of full Islamic veils became enforceable, arguing that the law is discriminatory and a violation of religious freedom. (Guillaume Gaven, La CEDH examine la loi française sur le voile intégral, FRANCE INFO (Nov. 27, 2013).)
The French government’s position, on the other hand, is that the law does not specifically discriminate against Islamic veils but applies to all types of facial concealment and that such a law only aims to promote normal societal life. (Interdiction du voile intégral en France: la CEDH rendra sa décision en 2014, L’EXPRESS (Nov. 27, 2013).) The ECHR is expected to come to a decision on this case in 2014. (Id.)