The Lord Chief Justice, the most senior judge in England gave his blessing to the use of sharia law to resolve disputes among Muslims.Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips said that Islamic legal principles could be employed to deal with family and marital arguments and to regulate finance. He declared: ‘It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by a law other than English law.’I wonder what Muslim WOMEN in Britain think about that:
Sharia law SHOULD be used in Britain, says UK’s top judge
By Steve Doughty
In his speech in an East London mosque Lord Phillips signalled approval of sharia principles as a means of settling disputes so long as no punishments that conflict with the established law are involved, and as long as divorces are made to comply with the civil law.
But his remarks – which give the green light from the highest judicial office to the informal sharia courts already operated by numerous mosques – provoked a storm of criticism.
Lawyers warned that family and marital disputes settled by sharia could leave women or vulnerable people at a serious disadvantage.
Tories said that equality under the law must be respected and warned that outcomes incompatible with English law should never be enforceable.
Lord Phillips spoke five months after Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams surrounded himself in controversy with a lecture in which he suggested Islamic law could have official status and that it could govern marital law, financial transactions and arbitration in disputes.The Lord Chief Justice said today of the Archbishop’s views: ‘It was not very radical to advocate embracing sharia law in the context of family disputes.’
He added that there was ‘widespread misunderstanding as to the nature of sharia law’.
Lord Phillips said: ‘Those who in this country are in dispute as to their respective rights are free to subject that dispute to the mediation of a chosen person, or to agree that the dispute shall be resolved by a chosen arbitrator.
‘There is no reason why principles of sharia law or any other religious code should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.’
Lord Phillips said that any sanctions must be ‘drawn from the laws of England and Wales’. Severe physical punishment – he mentioned stoning, flogging or the cutting off of hands – was ‘out of the question’ in Britain, he said.’So far as aspects of matrimonial law are concerned, there is a limited precedent for English law to recognise aspects of religious laws, although when it comes to divorce this can only be effected in accordance with the civil law of this country,’ he said. The Sharia Council of Britain: (from right to left) Dr Suhaib Hasan, Maulana Abu Sayeed and Mr Mufti Barabatullah preside over marriage cases at their headquarters earlier this year The signal of approval for voluntary sharia tribunals brought protests from lawyers who fear that in some Islamic communities women do not have a full and equal say and that they could be disadvantaged in supposedly voluntary sharia arrangements.
Barrister and human rights specialist John Cooper said: ‘There should be one law by which everyone is held to account.
‘I have considerable concerns that well-crafted and carefully designed laws in this country, drawn up to protect both parties including the weak and vulnerable party in matrimonial break-ups could be compromised.
‘I have concerns over a system of law that may cause one party to be disadvantaged.’
Resolution, the organisation of family law solicitors, said people should govern their lives in accordance with religious principles ‘provided that those beliefs and traditions do not contradict the fundamental principle of equality on which this country’s laws are based.’ Spokesman Teresa Richardson said religious law ‘must be used to find solutions which are consistent with the basic principles of family law in this country and people must always have redress to the civil courts where they so choose.’
Robert Whelan of the Civitas think tank said: ‘Everybody is governed by English law and it is not possible to sign away your legal rights.
‘That is why guarantees on consumer products always have to tell customers their statutory rights are not affected.
‘There is not much doubt that in traditional Islamic communities women do not enjoy the freedoms that women in this country have had for 100 years or more.
‘It is very easy to put pressure on young women in a male-dominated household.
‘The English law stands to protect people from intimidation in such circumstances.’ Tories warned that principles of equality under the law must be respected.
Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: ‘The Lord Chief Justice correctly points out that there is a tradition in this country of allowing mediation to take place subject to other legal principles as long as it is voluntary and not subject to coercion, and with outcomes which are not fundamentally incompatible with our own legal principles.
‘Any that are incompatible cannot and should never be enforceable.
‘One of the key aspects of our free society in Britain is equality under our own laws. It is important that this should be understood and respected by all in our country.’
A spokesman for Jack Straw’s Ministry of Justice said: ‘English law, which is based on our shared values of equality and a respect for the rule of law, takes precedence over any other legal system.
‘The Government has no intention of changing this position. Alongside this it is possible for other dispute resolution systems on matters of civil law to be accommodated, so long as they are not in conflict with the laws of England and Wales and are abided by on a voluntary basis.’BRIEFING: SHARIA LAW
- Sharia law is based on the Koran, on associated teaching about the life of the Prophet Mohammed, and on the judgements of Islamic clerics and lawyers down the centuries.
- It is in essence a set of religious principles by which Muslims are required to live. Sharia is interpreted and enforced differently in different countries across the Islamic world.
- Islamic law is often regarded as having four parts: how Muslims should worship; commerce; crime and punishment; and marriage and divorce.
- Sharia says forbidden behaviour, like drinking alcohol and taking drugs, or adultery, should be punished. Islamic scholars say the Koran sets down punishments such as lashes or stoning for adultery.
- Sharia law also permits behaviour not allowed by English law, for examply polygamy, which in some jurisdictions says men may have up to four wives.
- In Britain, sharia courts are often operated by mosques. Muslim families come to sharia courts for justice and agree to be bound by their rulings.
- They have no formal legal status.
- There are around 1.6 million British Muslims, most of whom are of Pakistani origin. The strongest Muslim communities are in London, especially in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets where Lord Phillips spoke yesterday, Birmingham, Yorkshire and Lancashire.
- Orthodox Jews operate Beth Din courts which are subordinate to the civil law and which decide issues among 180,000 people according to ancient Jewish law. They are regulated by the Chief Rabbi. A divorcing Jewish couple first divorce in the civil courts, then come to the Beth Din tribunals for religious judgement.
- The only religious courts in England with full and official legal status are the consistory courts and tribunals which decide disputes and disciplinary matters in the Church of England.