Sydney Morning Herald By Rachel Olding Posted Thurs., Feb.09, 2017
A woman who refused to stand for a judge due to her Islamic faith will become the first person to be charged with new disrespectful behaviour laws.
Moutia Elzahed, the wife of convicted terrorist recruiter Hamdi Alqudsi, refused to stand for NSW District Court judge Audrey Balla in December during a civil case against the police.
She will not be charged with contempt of court but will be prosecuted under the District Court Act for intentionally disrespectful behaviour, a spokesman for the Solicitor General’s Office said on Thursday.
The offence, which carries a maximum 14 days in prison or $1100 fine, was introduced last year following well-publicised instances of religious extremists not standing in court.
Ms Elzahed unsuccessfully sued state and federal police over a counter-terrorism raid on her family’s home in 2014.
She claimed the police assaulted her and her family, including punching her in the head while she was in bed, calling her a bitch and slamming her son on a cupboard.
At a hearing, her barrister said she would not stand for the judge because she doesn’t stand “for anyone except Allah”.
She also refused to give evidence without her niqab on unless all males looked away.
Judge Balla said that she needed to be able to see Ms Elzahed’s face because the “demeanour of a witness and the viewing of their face” helps to assess the credibility of their evidence.
She gave Ms Elzahed the option of giving evidence in a remote room so she couldn’t see others or closing the court so that only lawyers would be present.
Ms Elzahed declined both and the case was thrown out, largely because Judge Balla couldn’t get Ms Elzahed’s version of events.
On Thursday, a spokesman said the Solicitor-General Michael Sexton, SC, has “authorised, under delegation from the Attorney-General, the commencement of proceedings against Ms Elzahed for possible offences against s 200A(1) of the District Court Act 1973”.