By Natasha Robinson
A Muslim woman who refused to stand for a judge is potentially facing criminal charges in New South Wales.
It is the first test of tough new legislation that makes it an offence to disrespect a court in the state.
NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton has asked the state’s Solicitor-General to consider whether mother-of-two Moutia Elzahed should be charged with a summary offence under the new laws, which came into force in NSW in September.
The laws were brought in following several high-profile cases in NSW and Victoria, in which defendants refused to follow court conventions of standing as a judge enters the room and leaves the bench.
Ms Elzahed is the wife of convicted Islamic State recruiter Hamdi Alqudsi, who is serving a minimum six years’ jail time for arranging seven men to travel to Syria.
The family took civil action against the Commonwealth and NSW Governments for assault, false imprisonment and wrongful arrest following a high-profile terror raid in September 2014.
Ms Elzahed claims she was punched in the ear, eye and head during the raid in the early hours of September 18, 2014.
Her teenage sons Hamza George and Abdulla George also allege they were jostled violently during the raid, during which they were restrained and handcuffed in their bedrooms.
Police defended the claim, arguing reasonable force was used.
Where did this all start?
Ms Elzahed was involved in an initial stand-off with District Court judge Audrey Bella during the case, when she refused to remove her niqab — a full-face veil — when entering the witness stand.
Judge Bella offered the mother-of-two the opportunity to give evidence by video-link from another room, but Ms Elzahed refused as her face would still be seen by male lawyers and barristers in the courtroom.
Judge Bella also offered to close the court, but Ms Elzahed declined the offer and then elected not to attend court at the time she was scheduled to give evidence.
A second stand-off played out on Wednesday when Judge Bella challenged Ms Elzahed for failing to follow court protocol of standing for the judge.
Ms Elzahed’s barrister Clive Evatt said his client may not have properly understood court protocol.
“There’s no big sign on the door you must stand up. It’s a matter of practice and courtesy, but she may not have known that,” Mr Evatt said.
“She says under strict Muslim law you can’t stand up for anyone apart from Allah.
“But she may not have known that it’s pretty well compulsory to stand up for the judge, so she might have a reasonable explanation for that.”
Mr Evatt said he had spoken to his client and she was “very concerned” at the prospect of criminal charges.