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German court allows courtroom headscarf ban

Alexander Pearson
March 7, 2018

A Muslim legal trainee was again denied permission to wear a hijab in court. A judge ruled in favor of a headscarf ban one month before a new law comes into effect and puts an end to years of debate.

Woman wearing Muslim headscarf in court
Image: picture alliance/dpa/K.J.Hildenbrand

A court in the southern German city of Munich has overturned a 2016 lower court's ruling that struck down a Bavarian state ban on headscarves in courtrooms.

Even if the claimant had won on Wednesday, victory would have been short-lived. The case led the Bavarian parliament to pass a state law completely prohibiting people from wearing religious symbols in courtrooms. The law is set to come into effect in April. 

Read more: Constitutional Court strikes down absolute headscarf ban

The facts of the case:

  • Bavaria's Higher Regional Court told a 25-year-old legal student in 2014 she could not wear a headscarf during public appearances at court. The German-Pakistani student was doing legal training at the court at the time.
  • The court's position was based on a 2008 state order. The government at the time told regional courts that legal trainees should only be allowed to wear headscarves in the court's viewing area.
  • The student accused the state of discrimination and filed a lawsuit against the order.
  • A district court in the city of Augsburg ruled in favor of the student in June 2016. Judges said there was no Bavarian law that obliged legal trainees to "a neutral worldview or religious neutrality."
  • Bavaria's state government subsequently appealed the ruling. Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback argued legal officials and trainees needed to present the appearance of impartiality.
  • The Munich court said its decision on Wednesday was to ensure there was "no doubt about the independence and neutrality" of the courtroom.
Winfried Bausback
Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback filed the appeal against the 2016 court decisionImage: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Hase

Read more: I'm an Arab woman; am I oppressed?

Why today's ruling is symbolic: In response to the 2016 verdict, Bavaria's center-right government proposed a law forbidding legal officials from wearing religious "clothing or symbols that could elicit doubts about their independence, neutrality or commitment to the rule of law." The law passed in February and will, when it enters force on April 1, give the earlier ban a legal basis that it had lacked in the form of a state order.

Read more: Germany's AfD wants ban on wearing a headscarf in street

Discrimination against Muslim jobseekers

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