A Bill aiming to curb the influence of sharia courts in the UK has received strong support in the House of Lords.
The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill was introduced by Baroness Cox – a patron of The Christian Institute.
It comes after persistent concerns that women are suffering because of sharia courts which back polygamy and discriminate against women.
The Private Members’ Bill seeks “to tackle gender discrimination in arbitration proceedings, informal mediations or pseudo-courts” and “ensures that Muslim women have genuine access to knowledge concerning their rights”.
On Friday, the House of Lords was told of several cases where women have been discriminated against because sharia law, rather than the law of the land, was upheld.
One case involved a women who was threatened at gunpoint into a forced bigamous marriage and after she brought her concerns to the police, was told: “We can’t arrest him, because it’s allowed in your religion”.
Lady Cox said that in the UK, Muslim women are suffering in ways in which “would make the suffragettes turn in their graves”.
“Many of them see the proposals of the Bill as a lifeline, or, as one lady said to me, ‘a light at the end of the tunnel of darkness and oppression'”, she said.
Lady Cox called for provisions to be introduced to ensure that operating sharia law in the UK “is not undermining the rights of women and the rule of law”.
Peers lined up to offer unanimous support for the Baroness and her Bill.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey praised Lady Cox for her “commitment to those who are oppressed, whether here or abroad”.
Former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern called on the Government to take immediate action saying the “urgency of the situation merits action at an early date”.
The Bill has also received support from groups including the Muslim Women’s Advisory Council and the National Secular Society. It will now move on to its Committee stage.
Responding for the Government, justice minister Lord Keen of Elie said there were aspects of the Bill which were “unnecessary because of existing legislation”, and aspects which “need to be thought through with greater care”.
A Government review into the application of sharia law in England and Wales is expected to be completed this year.
Speaking in 2016, Lady Cox told the BBC that many Muslim women are in touch with her who are “suffering horrendously” under the current provisions.
She noted that sharia law:
- Allows a man to divorce his wife by saying ‘I divorce you’ three times.
- Permits the existence of polygamous marriages.
- Leads to domestic violence being condoned because a man is allowed to chastise his wife.
In September 2015, equalandfree.org was launched to speak up for women who have suffered under sharia law.
The website includes a number of case studies of Muslim women recounting their experiences.