A Muslim campaigner has lent her backing to a “pioneering” Bill which aims to tackle the problems caused by Sharia councils operating in England and Wales.
Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, is concerned that Muslim women are not aware of alternatives to Sharia law.
She is supporting the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill which has also won the backing of the National Secular Society and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali.
The Bill was introduced to the House of Lords last year by Christian and humanitarian campaigner, Baroness Cox.
It seeks to create a new offence of falsely claiming legal jurisdiction over criminal or family law.
Tehmina Kazi, a law graduate from the London School of Economics, says the proposed legislation would give women greater clarification on their rights.
She said: “There is a gap in the system for Muslim women due to the prevalence of Sharia councils.
“They don’t have any legal power and are completely informal so very hard to regulate and they rule on things such as divorce in Muslim communities. We want to educate women so they know what their rights are.”
She warned that “Sharia councils have no legal status and could potentially be set up in someone’s front room.
“Problems arise when they falsely claim a legal status that they do not have, and this kind of posturing is exactly what the Arbitration Bill seeks to criminalise.”
She added: “It is a pioneering proposal, because the onus is on the Sharia councils to clarify for existing and potential clients that their decisions have no legal weight, before any mediation can take place.”
A spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations said: “We welcome any bill that would protect the most vulnerable in society and especially anyone who is being denied their fundamental rights in this country.”
He added: “If people believe the councils have legal powers and if they are putting pressure on people to forego their legal rights this needs to be stopped and for them to be given their due rights.”