Islamic Sharia councils are discouraging women from going to the police in cases of domestic violence, a barrister has told the BBC.
Charlotte Proudman said that women are being left in “very vulnerable situations where they’re open to further abuse and domestic violence”.
The barrister’s comments came in a BBC East Midlands programme which also heard from a Muslim woman who said a Sharia council took the side of her violent husband.
The House of Lords debated a Bill which seeks to restrain the operation of Sharia councils in England and Wales last month.
Tabled by Baroness Cox – a Patron of The Christian Institute – the Bill seeks to challenge the suffering caused by “religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination” and the development of a quasi-legal system.
Speaking to the BBC, one unnamed woman said she had been in a violent relationship for over a decade – since she was married at 16.
She approached a Sharia council but they said she and her abusive husband should meet face-to-face to discuss reconciliation.
“I felt they were taking his side”, the woman told the BBC in a statement.
Charlotte Proudman said that Sharia councils are “operating a parallel legal system”, explaining that they are ruling on family law issues which are reserved for UK courts.
The programme also heard from Amra Bone, the first woman in Britain to sit on a Sharia council. She said the councils were set up to help resolve problems in the Muslim community.
However, in a separate article for the Sunday Express, Baroness Cox wrote of the distressing situations of some Muslim women in Britain.
She said one woman told her: “My husband beat me so badly I had to go to hospital. But my family would not allow me to seek help from the police because this would bring ‘shame’ on the family. The imam sent me back to my abusive husband.”
Baroness Cox rejected claims from some who have labelled her “Islamophobic”. Rather, she commented: “Since proposing the Bill I have received many phone calls from Muslim women who have told me it has given them encouragement and hope.”
“My concern is to ensure protection under the law for all citizens”.