Sharia and other religious courts
Law in Action has carried out an investigation into the workings of religious courts in Britain and this is being rebroadcast in the wake of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments about the relevance of Sharia law in Britain.
Members of some of Britain’s religious or ethnic minorities are turning to their own parallel legal systems to sort out disputes.
‘Legal pluralism’, is the law’s own brand of multiculturalism.
It means a legal system which allows other culturally specific legal systems to operate within it.
However, as Law in Action has discovered, it is more than just a theory.
Religious and ethnic minority courts are already a reality in the UK.
The main activities of the sharia councils we have spoken to are the giving of religious advice and the dissolution of Muslim marriages in cases where the husband does not agree to the divorce.
One sharia council we spoke to, the Mahkamah Council of Jurists, also settles civil law disputes on matters such as contract and negligence.
Its decisions are recognised as enforceable in English law as long as they are reasonable.
In this respect it is operating in a way similar to that of the Jewish courts in Britain (Beth Din) and to other courts of arbitration.
Although, as far as we know, none of the sharia councils deals with matters of criminal law, Faizul Aqtab Siddiqi of the Mahkamah Council of Jurists told us that he believes ‘there is a case to be made under which the elders sit together and reprimand people of the community to get them to change.’
What Law in Action really said about Islamic law in Britain.
Law in Action’s original broadcast resulted in considerable press coverageabout what Law in Action did and did not reveal about the existence of sharia (Islamic law) courts in Britain.
We would like to clarify a few points for those who have not had a chance to listen to the programme in its entirety.
We have not discovered the existence of sharia courts dispensing criminal justice in Britain. The only alternative criminal court which we know of uses Somali customary law.
Those who use the court are Muslim but the court does not apply sharia law.
The court seeks to reconcile victims and perpetrators by asking those found guilty to pay a sum of money to the complainant.
The court does not apply punishments such as stoning, amputation and beheading.
Read more about the Law in Action investigation:
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Law in Action – Sunday 10 February
On the programme:
To discuss the issues raised, Clive is joined in the studio by: