The Government has confirmed that it will launch an investigation into Sharia councils amid concerns that women are failing to be protected from violent husbands.
The move came in the Counter-Extremism Strategy which was released yesterday. The document also contains controversial plans which critics say would limit free speech.
Baroness Caroline Cox has campaigned against the harmful use of Sharia law for many years. On Friday she will lead a debate in Parliament about her Bill that seeks to curb the growth of quasi-legal systems, such as Sharia councils.
The Strategy noted the “overriding principle” for religious arbitration bodies is that they must “operate within the rule of law in the UK”.
However, it said there was evidence that Sharia law is, in some cases, being “misused and applied in a way which is incompatible with the law”.
Drawing on information that was given in support of Baroness Cox’s Bill, the Strategy said that some women are “unaware of their legal rights to leave violent husbands and are being pressurised to attend reconciliation sessions with their husbands despite legal injunctions in place to protect them from violence”.
The document stated: “There is only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen.
“We will never countenance allowing an alternative, informal system of law, informed by religious principles, to operate in competition with it.”
The Government said it would commission an “independent review to understand the extent to which Shari’a is being misused or applied in a way which is incompatible with the law”.
“This is expected to provide an initial report to the Home Secretary in 2016”, it added.
Baroness Cox has previously spoken of the need for a judge-led inquiry on the issue.
Last month a website was set up which highlighted powerful stories from women who had suffered because of Sharia law in Britain.
The website – equalandfree.org – features one lady called Sami who said: “Women’s rights are compromised by the operation of Sharia law in the UK”, and the Government should “ensure that everyone in the UK abides by the English legal system”.
Other measures outlined in the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy include Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs).
Earlier this year a former head of MI5 said the plans could catch Christians.
Lord Evans commented: “The forthcoming Counter-Extremism Bill aims to crack down on extremism but definitions will be crucial, and implementation of the new powers will be fraught with risk.
“One can imagine already the powers being used against harmless evangelical street preachers or the like, out of misplaced zeal and a desire to demonstrate that they are not directed against one religion alone.”