Under changes to the Law Enforcement Act, police will be able to require anyone to remove a face covering, including a helmet, burka, niqab or mask, the NSW government said today.
In most cases, the penalty would be a $220 fine, but some cases involving motorists could incur penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of $5500.
“People will only be required to remove a face covering for as long as it takes to identify them,” NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said.
“Those who want to be identified privately for cultural and religious reasons can request to go to a police station.”
The government will also give government officials the power to request the removal of face coverings in courts, juvenile detention centres and prisons.
People refusing to comply will be asked to leave the premises or face fines of up to $550.
The new legislation will be introduced in state parliament next week.
“I have every respect for different religions and beliefs but when it comes to enforcing the law, the police should be given adequate powers to make a clear identification,” Mr O’Farrell said.
The changes come after Sydney woman Carnita Matthews was sentenced to six months in jail in November 2010, for falsely accusing a police officer of forcibly trying to remove her burqa.
The case arose after Ms Matthews was pulled over her while driving in Woodbine in June 2010.
But the sentence was quashed in an appeal in June this year, after NSW District Court judge Clive Jeffreys ruled there was no evidence to confirm that it was Ms Matthews who filed the complaint because the person who did so was wearing a veil and could not be positively identified.
The NSW ombudsman will conduct a review of the new laws after 12 months.