Sharia law is undermining the “concept of judicial equality” at the expense of the vulnerable, a prominent peer has warned.
Baroness Cox says Britain no longer operates “under a single legal code” and that Sharia is “effectively a parallel quasi-legal system operating within some Muslim communities”.
The warning comes after an undercover investigation revealed that two imams were prepared to marry a twelve-year-old to grown men “under the aegis of Sharia law”.
Lady Cox, in an article for the Daily Mail, cautions: “No society can function effectively with a parallel quasi-legal system, with some people having, in practice, drastically diminished legal rights because of their religion and their gender.”
She adds: “In so many ways, Sharia law treats women as second-class citizens, whether it be in inheritance rights or divorce.
“According to Sharia law, for instance, a woman’s word counts for only half the value of that of a man.”
The independent peer is behind a parliamentary Bill, which will have its second reading next month, seeking to tackle the problem of Sharia courts in England and Wales.
The 1996 Arbitration Act means that the rulings of religious arbitration tribunals can be enforced in commercial and civil cases.
But there are concerns about Sharia law being illegitimately used for a wider remit.
Lady Cox says that her bill “would cover all arbitration tribunals and mediated settlements, and any pseudo-courts, regardless of religion.
“It would make it a criminal offence for any individual or group to pose as a proper legal court, with the full sanction of prison sentences for those who contravene this law.
“The Bill would also make it easier to challenge in a civil court any settlement made in a Sharia court based on gender discrimination.”