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Society – Sharia inequalities

March 2018

Muslim women must be given more protection from sharia law, when it comes to family law and divorce, an independent review has found. The government’s independent review, Applying sharia law in England and Wales, has recommended changes to offer greater protection for Muslim women.

One of the recommendations — which has been rejected by the Home Office — is to create an official regulatory body for ‘sharia courts’. The report proposes the creation of a regulatory body, similar to Ofsted, to enforce best practice among sharia courts, particularly with respect to the treatment of women.

Although this proposal ought to bring better transparency and accountability across sharia courts, many organisations — Christian and non-religious — warn that such a body would risk granting legitimacy to a system of dispute resolution sitting outside UK law.

Richy Thompson, director of public affairs and policy for Humanists UK, commented: ‘We should be very clear that UK law is supreme and that sharia courts have no legal standing. We will oppose any measure to cloud or remove this distinction’.

This comes soon after the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights heard a case concerning the application of sharia law to a dispute between Greek citizens who are Muslims (see Society – Greek case).

The court is still to determine whether sharia law can have supremacy over a European member state’s domestic law. Several advocacy organisations and legal bodies have intervened, concerned over implications for Europe. One such organisation is Christian Concern, whose chief executive is legal expert Andrea Williams.