Bill to curb Sharia courts debated in the House of Lords

A Bill which would limit the power of Sharia courts that back polygamy and discrimination against women was debated in the House of Lords on Friday.

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Baroness Cox, who introduced the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, says it will curb the growth of parallel legal systems in England and Wales.

It was the first ever full Parliamentary debate on the subject in the UK.


The House of Lords was told Muslim women are being forced to “live in fear” because of these unregulated Sharia courts.

Lady Cox gave examples of how women have been discriminated against because Sharia law, rather than the law of the land, was upheld.

One case involved a woman who had been hospitalised by her violent husband who had left her for another woman, but denied her a religious divorce.


During the Today programme on Radio 4, Baroness Cox said the intention of the Bill is to stop the systematic discrimination against women in these quasi legal systems.

She said they are “undermining that fundamental principle: one law for all”.

There is much support for Lady Cox’s Bill, including from lawyers who agree that the protections English law provides should apply to all women, regardless of their religion.


Sarah Duckworth, partner and family law expert at Mundays LLP, said, “the Equality Bill will uphold and protect vulnerable Muslim women and children and it is right to ensure them the safety net that the English family court provides. This legislation is sorely needed”.

Sharia courts have been widespread since 1982 in the UK and have increased in popularity and influence in recent years.

Sarah Duckworth said reports suggest Sharia cases have tripled over the past three to five years.

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