Sydney woman escapes jail on burqa ruling

Judge overturned conviction of Carnita Matthews saying full veil had obscured her identity
The ruling is likely to ignite debate over the burqa in Australia, after Senator Cory Bernardi last year called for a ban on the full-body veil
By Joanne Bladd
Tue 21 Jun 2011 12:04 PM

A Sydney woman convicted of falsely claiming a police officer tried to tear off her burqa has escaped jail after a judge ruled her identity couldn’t be confirmed because of the full veil.

Carnita Matthews, a mother of seven, was sentenced to six months in jail in 2010 for claiming Sergeant Paul Kearney had tried to remove her veil during a random breath test because he was racist.

The 47-year-old had made a criminal complaint to police three days after she was pulled over in her car, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. But her conviction was overturned Monday on appeal after Judge Clive Jeffreys ruled he could not confirm that it was Matthews who had filed the complaint, because the person who made it was fully veiled.

In a CCTV video played to the court, Matthews is seen shouting at the officer.

“You are racist. All cops are racists,” she was quoted as saying. “You look at me and see me wearing this [burqa] and you couldn’t handle it.”

The video showed Sgt Kearney did not touch her veil.

The ruling is likely to ignite debate over the burqa in Australia, after Senator Cory Bernardi last year called for a ban on the full-body veil.

New South Wales Police Minister Mike Gallacher told Australian media on Tuesday that Muslim women who file complaints with the police while wearing full-face veils may be fingerprinted in future to confirm their identity.

"The suggestion that I have made to the attorney-general, that may well be considered ... is that there be a provision on the statutory declaration or the statement for a fingerprint to be obtained from the person being interviewed," he was quoted as saying.

Police officers already have the power to compel the removal of face veils during investigations of more serious offences, he said.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.