MUSLIM women who file complaints with police while wearing full-face veils may be fingerprinted in future to confirm their identity, New South Wales Police Minister Mike Gallacher says.
The suggestion arose after Sydney woman Carnita Matthews, 47, who had been sentenced in 2010 to six months’ jail for falsely accusing a police officer of trying forcibly to remove her burqa, won an appeal against her conviction.
The mother of seven had made a criminal complaint to police three days after she was pulled over in her car in Woodbine, southwest Sydney, for a random breath test on June 7, 2010.
Judge Clive Jeffreys yesterday overturned Ms Matthews’ conviction at an appeal hearing in the NSW District Court.
He said there was no evidence to confirm that it was Ms Matthews who had filed the complaint because the person who made it was wearing a face veil.
Mr Gallacher today said that in future criminal cases, complainants and witnesses who failed to remove their face veils may be required to have their fingerprints taken 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 said in Sydney.
He said the fingerprint data could be destroyed at a later date, at the request of the complainant.
On the issue of police officers compelling women to remove face veils at the actual scenes of alleged crimes, Mr Gallagher conceded police powers were currently not clear.
He said he would speak to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to find ways to clarify the situation.
Officers currently have the power to compel the removal of face veils while investigating more serious or indictable offences, Mr Gallacher said.
But they do not have such power under the Motor Transport Act when stopping a driver.
“I want to look at the Motor Transport Act … to ensure where there is uncertainty at the scene, police have the ability to take the person back, which they currently do, to the police station and check their identity,” Mr Gallacher said.
Mr Gallacher said it was his understanding there was nothing in Islamic law which currently forbade women from removing face veils to assist police and the courts.
Any change to the law regarding crime scene identification would be done in a measured way, reflecting individual freedom while balancing police powers, he said.