Justice Secretary Jack Straw has clarified the position on Muslim courts, but he does not go far enough. From the Daily Mail (h/t J/W):
Muslim courts will always remain 'subservient' to English law, Jack Straw declared last night.
In a speech to an Islamic conference, the Justice Secretary said the arguments against creating a parallel system of Sharia law in Britain were 'overwhelming'.
His remarks come less than a week after one of his junior ministers, Bridget Prentice, appeared to clear Islamic courts to deal with family and divorce disputes, including how a Muslim couple divide their money and property and who gets the children.
Mr Straw said that - while courts could consider a Sharia ruling - they would make their own judgments on the welfare of the children.
Mr Straw, who is also Lord Chancellor, added: 'It is ultimately up to the court to decide whether the agreement complies with English law. No court will endorse an agreement which conflicts with English law.'
In the strongest passage of last night's speech, he continued: 'There is nothing whatever in English law that prevents people abiding by Sharia principles if they wish to, provided they do not come into conflict with English law.
'There is no question about that. But English law will always remain supreme, and religious councils subservient to it.'
Mr Straw earlier told the audience that 'many dreadful things have been done in the name of mainstream religions. Barbaric practices such as stoning have been – quite wrongly – justified by reference to Islam, for instance'.
He added: 'I am firm in disagreeing with those who say that Sharia law should be made a separate system in the UK. And there has been much misinformation in recent weeks about this issue.
'There are some countries which do have within their systems of law separate courts to deal with issues of inheritance and family law for different faith groups, such as India and Egypt.
'But we do not in the UK and there are overwhelming arguments about why we should not move down this path.'
Under certain circumstances, religious courts can act as arbitrators in personal disputes, Mr Straw said.
But he added: 'Crucially, any member of a religious community – or indeed, any other community – has the right to refer to an English court, particularly if they feel pressured or coerced to resolve an issue in a way in which they feel uncomfortable.'
His speech will be seen as an attempt to end nine months of controversy over the role of tribunals run according to Islamic strictures.
It does not end the controversy, nor should it. First, even if a decision does not go against English law, it could still be unjust. For example, a woman may "agree" to waive her rights under English law because Sharia does not give her those rights. This is perfectly legal, but wrong. Secondly, women are treated unjustly under Sharia, and are often at the mercy of dictatorial or violent husbands, brothers and fathers. The women's "agreement" under arbitration may well be coerced. What safeguards does Jack Straw, or anyone else in Government, propose to ensure that agreement is genuine? Finally, and most importantly, Sharia must be actively opposed if it is not to spread. Here is what I wrote a few weeks ago, in my comparison with tax law:
Muslims don't really believe in arbitration or alternative dispute resolution. How can they? If the world belongs to Allah, how can there be alternatives? There must be only one system: Sharia. But while Muslims don't really believe in arbitration, or any other Infidel principle, they will take advantage of it if it is there. And it is there - or rather here, in Britain - and has been for over three centuries. The 1996 Arbitration Act merely codified and clarified existing practice. It was not intended to be a vehicle for Sharia, and is ill-equipped, in its present form, to handle this alien force. Arbitration worked well in the past because in the past UK citizens were not bent on using it for a malign purpose. This is no longer true. Islam is a malign ideology, and will use our existing laws as far as possible to dominate. This is a fact, and it is no good wishing it were otherwise. Like tax law, arbitration law must change to take account of that fact, and close the loopholes - preferably with barbed wire.
Contrary to the press hysteria, UK law has not changed to accommodate Sharia, but it needs to change now to exclude it.
My opinion still stands: Jack Straw's remarks have done nothing to change it.