Govt won’t back Islamic parallel legal system

Sharia councils will not be given state backing, the Government has said, as it warned against appearing to have a parallel legal system.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd was responding to a new report which considered how the councils operate in England and Wales.

Rudd said ministers would, however, consider a proposal to ensure civil marriages are conducted alongside Islamic marriages.

Unequal treatment

Baroness Cox, who has consistently campaigned on protecting women from sharia councils, told The Christian Institute: “The review confirms that Sharia law is being used in the UK as an alternative to the proper legal process.”

The study, which has been running for more than a year, found that sharia councils are almost exclusively used by women – 90 per cent of the time for divorce.

Concerning practices included women being treated unequally, “inappropriate” questioning and some council members having a poor grasp of English.


The first recommendation was to amend legislation to “ensure that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the Islamic marriage ceremony”.

It also backed a public information campaign to inform Muslims of their rights under the law.

The review’s third recommendation was to create a state-backed body to oversee sharia councils – a group it said could be similar to Ofsted.

Careful consideration

Responding for the Government, the Home Secretary said it would “carefully consider the review’s findings” but could not support the third recommendation.

Amber Rudd added: “Britain has a long tradition of freedom of worship and religious tolerance and regulation could add legitimacy to the perception of the existence of a parallel legal system even though the outcomes of Sharia Councils have no standing in civil law, as the independent review has made clear.”

Lady Cox, who is a patron of The Christian Institute, warned that the proposals to regulate sharia councils could have “unintended consequences”. She said: “Urgent action is required. But the rights of Muslim women, and the rule of law, must be upheld.”


Simon Calvert, a Deputy Director at The Christian Institute, welcomed the Government’s decision, saying some Muslims are led to believe sharia councils are “real courts”.

“Giving these institutions their own regulator would have granted them formal state recognition, greatly increasing their power over the communities where they operate.”

He added: “Muslims have the same legal rights as everyone else in this country. They shouldn’t be denied those rights by some kind of UK-sanctioned system of sharia courts.”