Daniel Grütters is a part of the legal team representing Mrs Sarah Asmeta in the European Court of Human Rights in her appeal to overturn the French Court hijab ban

8 Jul 2022

France ban on Female Muslim lawyers wearing hijab in court goes to European Court of Human Rights

Sarah Asmeta, a fully-qualified French lawyer who chooses to wear the hijab (Islamic headscarf), has lodged her case at the European Court of Human Rights after the French Cour de Cassation (France’s highest court for civil matters) rejected her appeal on 2 March 2022, endorsing a ban by her local Bar Council (the Lille Bar Council) that prohibits French lawyers wearing the hijab or other markers of faith in court. The Cour de Cassation said the ban was necessary to ensure the ‘independence of lawyers’, the ‘equality of citizens’, and the ‘right to a fair trial’.

Mrs Asmeta holds an undergraduate degree and multiple masters’ degrees. She has also worked at the International Criminal Court. The effect of the Cour de Cassation’s ruling is that she is effectively prevented from practising in her chosen area of criminal law, and is limited to practise in cases or areas of law that do not require her to represent clients in court, causing both financial and professional detriment to her career in law. If Mrs Asmeta were to appear in court wearing the hijab to represent her own clients she would face temporary suspension and, ultimately, disbarment.

Daniel Grütters is a part of the legal team representing Mrs Asmeta in her appeal to overturn this ban in the European Court of Human Rights.

Over the weekend, the team lodged Mrs Asmeta’s application against France at the European Court of Human Rights, on the basis of Articles 6, 9, 10, 13, and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is argued the ban is a violation of these rights, including by:

·      Article 6 – The ban undermines the independence of lawyers in private practice who are not public servants, not affected by the classical definition of laicite, and therefore should be free from state interference (actual or perceived), as well as able to act freely, independently, and fearlessly on behalf of clients. The ban also presents an unjustified limitation on the right to choice of lawyers and an interference with equality of arms between lawyers.

·      Article 9 – The ban constitutes an unjustified interference with the right to freedom of religion which pursues no legitimate aims, and is neither necessary nor proportionate. Amongst other things, the claim that wearing the hijab undermines the independence of the applicant as a lawyer is unsubstantiated and misconceived, the ECHR does not allow states to pre-emptively allege lack of professional independence without any evidence of lack of independence, and there is no correlation or causal link between bias or a lack of independence and the wearing of the hijab. To the contrary, state interference in this remit precisely undermines the perceived independence of lawyers, and any inability to treat lawyers equally because of religious signifiers would suggest discrimination on the part of the tribunal and not any fault by the lawyer.

·      Article 14 – The Ban constitutes indirect discrimination and indirect intersectional discrimination because the applicant is treated less favourably than other lawyers on the basis of the protected characteristics of gender/sex and religion.

In addition to Daniel, Mrs Asmeta’s legal team consists of Clara Gandin (1948 Avocats), Dr Christina Lienen (Cornerstone Barristers), Rabah Kherbane (Doughty Street), and leading academics Dr Stephanie Berry, Senior Lecturer in International Human Rights Law at the University of Sussex, as well as Dr Shreya Atrey, Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. The team is led by Sultana Tafadar QC (No. 5 Chambers).

Back to News