Sharia courts in the UK are increasingly hearing cases brought by non-Muslims who find the process ‘less cumbersome’ than the English legal system, reports The Times.
The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) says five per cent of its cases now come from non-Muslims attracted by the comparative informality of the system.
A spokesman for the MAT, which hopes to triple the number of its Sharia courts in British cities by the end of the year, explained: “We put weight on oral agreements, whereas the British courts do not.”
Under the Arbitration Act 1996, Sharia courts can have their rulings upheld by civil courts in England and Wales.
Decisions from the tribunals, which often deal with family and financial disputes, can be presented to a family court judge on a two page form for approval.
However, critics of the system are concerned about the unequal status of men and women in Sharia law.
Denis MacEoin, the author of a recent Civitas report on the subject, said the news that non-Muslims were using the courts “raises all sorts of questions”.
“You really need to ask why”, he said. “What advantages could that possibly have for them going to an Islamic court?”
He said Sharia courts would be “implementing aspects of a law that runs contrary to British law, because of the way it treats women for example”.
Mr MacEoin’s report revealed earlier this year that there are at least 85 Sharia courts operating in the UK.
The MAT intends to establish new tribunals in cities including Luton, Leeds, Blackburn, Stoke and Glasgow.
Freed Chedie, a spokesman for MAT founder Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siqqiqi, accused critics of the system of “scaremongering”.
The Government says that Sharia rulings are only valid if a judge deems them to be compatible with English law.
However, Lord Pearson of Rannoch suggested last month that the Government “may be disturbingly complacent about the fact that Sharia law is incompatible with the values and law of this country”.
During House of Lords questions he asked the Government for “a clear assurance that Sharia law will never be allowed to take precedence over British law”.
Justice Minister Lord Bach responded: “Sharia law has no jurisdiction in England and Wales. We do not intend to change that position.”
Lord Thomas of Gresford mentioned examples of domestic violence cases dealt with by the MAT which resulted in men attending anger management classes with women dropping their complaints to the police and criminal investigations ceasing.
Commenting on the pressure Muslim women face to submit to this system of arbitration, Lord Tebbit reminded the Minister that “a few years ago in the East End of London, there was a system of arbitration of disputes run by the Kray brothers”.
He asked: “Is he not aware that extreme pressure is put on vulnerable women to go through a form of arbitration that results in them being virtually precluded from access to British law?” he added.
Lord Bach admitted that this problem “undoubtedly exists”, but insisted again that “any decision made by anybody that is outside English law cannot stand against English law”.