Sharia courts creating dual justice system in UK?
Sharia councils in the UK say they deal strictly with family matters, such as marriage and child custody battles, but there is concern that they constitute a parallel legal system.
“We believe that Sharia courts discriminate against women and especially against Muslim women,” Nazira Mahmari, of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, told RT.
“We want all women to have the right to access the mainstream system,” she added. Mahmari says she would like to close down all Sharia courts in the UK.
This view is shared by Robin Tilbrook, the founder of the English Democrats Party, who says the British government should be doing more to tackle the problem.
“I think more effort needs to be made by the authorities so that it is simply not allowed that divorce, criminal matters and inheritances are dealt within Sharia courts, particularly where the requirement for women to take part in these is basically being forced on them,” he told RT.
However, there are fears that if all Sharia courts were to be closed down, they would just appear underground, making it harder for them to be regulated.
It is said there are some 85 such courts in Britain, but the actual number is unknown, Reuters reports. Their supporters say much of the criticism concerning these justice systems is due to ignorance about how much power they wield.
Khola Hasan, a scholar from the Islamic Sharia Council defended the need for Sharia courts, saying the English legal system is not interested in certain matters that affect Muslim families.
“English courts are not interested in religious marriages or religious divorces, so we are working alongside the English legal system and all we are doing is providing a religious aspect that English law does not provide,” she told RT.
Home Secretary Teresa May launched an inquiry into these religious councils last month. The Islamic Sharia Council does admit there are issues and say they would welcome government input and regulation of the system.
“There are many Sharia councils that are operating under the radar who do not have any kind of transparency. There is not even a staff sitting [sic], as there is just one person in a backroom,” Hasan said.
The minister for Countering Extremism, Lord Ahmad, said the UK government is looking into whether Sharia courts are misusing the law and are in the process of compiling a report.
"The government is committed to an independent review to understand the extent to which Sharia may be being misused, or applied in a way which is incompatible with the law in the UK. This review will be formally established shortly and we expect an initial report to be issued to the home secretary in 2016,” he said in December.
Sharia law, practiced in many Middle Eastern countries, is the Islamic legal system, which has been derived from the Koran, as well as taking into account rulings of Islamic scholars. Aside from providing rules for living, such as prayers and fasting, Sharia law can hand down punishments, which can be as severe as cutting off limbs or being beheaded for certain crimes.
In 2014, the Law Society published guidelines under which High Street solicitors would have the ability to write Islamic wills, which can exclude non-believers completely and deny women an equal share of an inheritance.
“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognized,” the document states.