Topic initiated on Saturday, October 25, 2008 - 6:11 AM
|Government endorses sharia|
Islamic courts cleared to deal with family and divorce disputes as Government endorses sharia
Islamic courts have been cleared to deal with family and divorce disputes.
Sharia tribunals will be able to decide how a Muslim couple divide their money and property and who gets the children.
The sole proviso from Jack Straw's Justice Ministry is that a formal law court must rubber-stamp the ruling.
This would be in the form of a two-page form sent to a judge sitting in a family court. The divorcing couple would not need to attend.
The decision follows nine months of controversy over the role of tribunals run according to Islamic strictures.
In February, Downing Street slapped down the Archbishop of Canterbury when he suggested the rise of sharia law seemed 'unavoidable'.
But in July, Lord Phillips, who has since retired as Lord Chief Justice, said sharia principles could be the basis for resolving family and business disputes.
Muslim ministers have warned that sharia should not have an official role because it accords unequal status to men and women.
Giving more weight to evidence from men could hand them a greater share of property and enhanced custody rights.
Lawyers said yesterday that using the secretive family courts to endorse sharia decisions would draw a veil over matters of wide public interest.
Critics of the idea said yesterday advancing the role of Islamic tribunals would further marginalise isolated minority communities.
The endorsement of sharia was announced to MPs by Bridget Prentice, a junior justice minister.
She said the councils would still have no jurisdiction in England and that rulings by religious authorities had no legal force.
But Miss Prentice added: 'If, in a family dispute dealing with money or children, the parties to a judgment in a sharia council wish to have this recognised by English authorities, they are at liberty to draft a consent order embodying the terms of the agreement and submit it to an English court.
'This allows English judges to scrutinise it to ensure that it complies with English legal tenets.'
A consent order allows couples to have a 'clean break' divorce in which there are no long-term maintenance payments.
The orders can be approved only where a couple have negotiated and agreed all aspects of their break-up such as money, debts, property and children. The family court judge must decide whether the agreement is reasonable and ensure no side has been disadvantaged.
The great majority of consent orders are approved.
Barrister Neil Addison said yesterday: 'If the system works, the judge will not allow an agreement where there has been pressure on one party. He allows a consent order only if the agreement seems reasonable.
'However most mediation of disputes takes place in private and agreements are approved in open court. This is different - the original sharia law is secret and so is the judgment.'
Robert Whelan, of the Civitas think-tank, said: 'The problem with the Government's attitude is the big question over how far submission to sharia courts is voluntary among Muslim women.
'Women who live in some communities may have no option but to go to the sharia court. The case is then rubber-stamped by a family court without any of us knowing how the decision was reached.'
Islamic tribunals have authority to make decisions in business and financial disputes where both parties agree to accept arbitration.
Five sharia courts operate mediation systems under the Arbitration Act of 1996.
But financial disputes are less controversial because they are much less likely to raise problems over the status of women.
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