True number of Sharia law courts ‘at least 85’

There are more than 85 unofficial Sharia ‘courts’ operating in the UK, many times more than is commonly estimated, a new report reveals.

The courts, which usually apply Sharia law in family or financial disputes, can have their rulings upheld by civil courts in England and Wales under the 1996 Arbitration Act.

Decisions from the tribunals can be presented to a family court judge on a two page form for approval.

There are increasing concerns about the way the courts operate, and particularly the treatment of women under Sharia law.

The new report from think-tank Civitas, entitled Sharia Law or ‘One Law For All’?, calls for a new law to stop Sharia rulings from being legally enforceable.

It argues that in many areas Sharia law is out of step with Western standards, pointing to previous rulings approving polygamous marriage and noting that “women are not equal” under the Sharia system.

The report says: “The fact that so many sharia rulings in Britain relate to cases concerning divorce and custody of children is of particular concern, as women are not equal in sharia law, and sharia contains no specific commitment to the best interests of the child that is fundamental to family law in the UK.

“Under sharia, a male child belongs to the father after the age of seven, regardless of circumstances.”

Last month Lord Tebbit compared the Sharia system to the arbitration regime run by the Kray brothers in the East End of London during the sixties.

He warned the House of Lords of “extreme pressure put on vulnerable women to go through a form of arbitration that results in them being virtually precluded from access to British law”.

Writing on the issue last year, Joshua Rozenberg, one of Britain’s best-known legal commentators, said: “Under Sharia, a woman is not regarded as equal to a man. There must be a grave risk that women will be treated less favourably by a Sharia council than those claiming maintenance through a secular court.

“Women may also come under pressure from within their own communities to have a one-sided Sharia ruling endorsed by the civil courts.”