A national newspaper has welcomed plans for an inquiry into the judicial role of Sharia councils in Britain, warning that a “single sovereign rule of law” is the only protection against discrimination.
The editorial in yesterday’s edition of The Times came as Home Secretary Theresa May told the Home Affairs Select Committee last week about the investigation promised for next year.
She said she is “very aware” of the concerns about how some Sharia courts are operating.
In Sharia councils, women suffer under religiously-sanctioned sex discrimination and are often unaware of their legal rights.
The Times editorial said that following the inquiry, the Government should put a stop to cases where women and children are given “short shrift by Islamic jurisprudence”.
“The civil law should not be so pliable as to yield to the competing jurisprudence of whatever faith wishes to reshape it.”
It added: “Attempts to muzzle victims of discrimination are almost impossible to prove.
“The inquiry must investigate this, but it can never know what it has not found. The only true protection is a single, sovereign rule of law.”
The Government’s new Counter-Extremism Strategy, published in October, contained a commitment to launch an independent investigation into Sharia councils operating in Britain.
It says that some women are “unaware of their legal rights to leave violent husbands” and that Sharia law is, in some cases, being “misused and applied in a way which is incompatible with the law”.
Lord Ahmad, Minister for Countering Extremism, said yesterday: “This review will be formally established shortly and we expect an initial report to be issued to the Home Secretary in 2016.”
Speaking in the Lords at the Second Reading of the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill earlier this year, Baroness Cox told Peers her reasons for bringing the issue to the House.
She said the Bill seeks to address: “The suffering of women oppressed by religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination in this country” and an “alternative quasi-legal system which undermines the fundamental principle of one law for all”.
Baroness Cox added that, “the chasm between the de jure situation and the de facto reality is an abyss into which countless women are falling”.