September 19, 2008, 1:54 pm

Anarchy in the U.K.?


Winston Churchill said that stakes in the the Battle of Britain were no less than “the survival of Christian civilization” — how do you think he’d take this news from an article in The Times of London? “Islamic law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.” The article continues:

The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence. Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through county courts or the country’s High Court, a part of its Supreme Court system. Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Weekly Standard’s blog thinks things are a bit more complex.

In my judgment, the issue is significant—but is also rather complex, and shouldn’t be oversimplified. The proclamation that Britain has “adopted Islamic law” is plainly inaccurate. Sharia only governs where both parties agree to its implementation. It won’t subsume British law unless there is a specific contract or agreement to apply sharia in civil disputes rather than British law: thus the sharia courts’ classification as arbitration tribunals (a form of what is called “alternative dispute resolution”). A basic freedom of contract issue about whether a form of religious law should apply in place of secular law arises whenever a religion has specific rules for civil life, and two devout adherents to that faith enter into an agreement. For this reason, the Times notes that Britain also has Jewish beth din courts that “operate under the same provision in the Arbitration Act and resolve civil cases, ranging from divorce to business disputes.” These sharia courts are not designed to apply criminal law: we will not suddenly see amputations and beheadings in Britain.

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