French burqa ban to be heard by the Grand Chamber ECtHR

The Chamber of the ECtHR to which the application in S.A.S. v France (No. 43835/11) was assigned has relinquished jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber, neither party having objected to relinquishment.

Under Law no. 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010, which came into force on 11 April 2011, it is forbidden in France to conceal one’s face in a public place: “Nul ne peut, dans l’espace public, porter une tenue destinée à dissimuler son visage”.

The applicant, a French national who is a practising Muslim, states that she wears the burqa in order to live according to her faith, her culture and her personal convictions. She also wears the niqab veil in public and in private, but not consistently; however, she wants to be able to wear it when she so chooses. She states that her purpose in wearing the burqa or the niqab is not to inconvenience others but to live according to her principles. She also asserts that neither her husband nor any other member of her family puts pressure on her to wear the burqa.

She complains:

  • that she risks incurring a criminal penalty and suffering harassment and discrimination if she wears the burqa in public, contrary to Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment);
  • that the statutory prohibition prevents her from dressing as she chooses in public, contrary to Article 8 (respect for private and family life);
  • that the ban violates her rights under Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and her freedom to manifest her religion or belief, individually or collectively, in public or in private, in worship, teaching, practice and observance;
  • that the ban violates her rights under Article 10 (freedom of expression) because she is unable to wear in public a garment expressing her faith and religious, cultural and personal identity;
  • that the fact that she is prevented from assembling with others in public wearing the full veil breaches her right to freedom of assembly under Article 11; and
  • that the statutory prohibition gives rise to discrimination based on sex, religion and ethnic origin to the detriment of women who, like her, wear the full veil, contrary to Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

The application was lodged with the Court on 11 April 2011 and was communicated to the French authorities, with questions by the Court, on 1 February 2012.