The government kicks the Sharia debate into the long grass

22 October 2012

Because our Parliament discusses little of significance anymore, most of the public tend to ignore it. The perception that the weekly silliness of Prime Minister’s Questions constitutes Parliamentary business is enough to put any normal person off.  And apart from that weekly bun-fight, even the media barely bothers to report on the work of either House any longer.

Occasionally something still happens in the Commons or the Lords that is worthy of serious attention but because of its form elsewhere, such occasions fail to get the attention they deserve.

Such is the Bill proposed by Baroness Cox, which had its second reading in the Lords on Friday. Beneath its title (‘The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill’) lies a debate which heads straight at one of the most important issues of our time: whether this country will make a stand on the principle of ‘one law for all’ or whether competing  laws will be allowed to operate unchallenged by a timid government and weak legal system. As Baroness Cox said in her opening remarks:

‘Awareness of the need for the Bill arose from mounting evidence of serious problems affecting some women in this country from the application of Sharia law. I immediately reassure your Lordships that I am not anti-Muslim. Indeed, I am deeply concerned that Muslim women enjoy their full legal and civil rights under the law of this land. If women from other faiths experience comparable problems of systematic discrimination, the provisions of this Bill would also be available for them as it does not name any religion.

The problems I will highlight often arise because many women believe that Sharia courts are real courts and do not know that they have other rights under English law or they are pressured by their family or community not to seek those rights outside their community. I give two examples of the kinds of problems afflicting women in this country. I have met these women and witnessed their distress. One suffered such severe domestic violence that she was hospitalised. She was pressured by her family not to seek help from the police as this would bring “shame” on the community. She went to the local Sharia court or council and was told to return to her husband. She did so and suffered more domestic violence. Then her husband divorced her, went back to his country of origin and returned with a second wife. As a devout Muslim, she wanted a religious divorce to allow her to remarry in accordance with her faith but the Sharia court demanded her marriage certificate which her husband’s family kept. Attempts to retrieve it resulted in violence in the name of “honour”, as she was blamed for bringing shame on the family by seeking a divorce. Seven years later this devout and desperately lonely Muslim lady is still unable to obtain her divorce and remarry.

Secondly, a Muslim widow wanted to remarry but was told by the Sharia council or court that she must obtain the permission of a male relative. She had no male relative in this country so she had to travel to Jordan to obtain the written permission of a seven year-old boy relative in order to be able to remarry in this country. It is not surprising that another young woman complained, “I feel betrayed by Britain. I came to this country to get away from all this but the situation is worse here than in my country of origin”.

Other examples concern children. Under Sharia law a father who divorces his wife can claim custody of his children once they reach the age of seven. This gender discrimination violates the fundamental legal principle in this country that custody should be determined according to the best interests of the child. These examples are just the tip of an iceberg as many women live in fear, so intimidated by family and community that they dare not speak out or ask for help. A lady came to see me in my home. I shall never forget seeing her hide behind a tree because she was so terrified of being seen. We should not have such fear in this country.’

In an important contribution Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation in the UK said:

‘I have particular concerns about Muslim arbitration tribunals-MATs, as they are known-which, as I understand it, have been in existence since 2007. Their effect is that dominant interpretations of Sharia law have effectively been given formal recognition within the law of England and Wales, even though they contradict the law of England and Wales. I have a real concern that MATs have strayed into criminal law, particularly in relation to its impact upon women.’


As Lord Kalms of Edgware said in his contribution to the debate:

‘The substance of the Bill is straightforward, and it should be acceptable to all Members of this House. It is this: that the law of the land is, and must remain, paramount; no law should ever override or sit above the law of this land; and, while amendments can and will be made to our laws, the fundamental bedrock principles on which our legal system is based not only cannot but must not be open for negotiation. Among our absolutely non-negotiable principles must be the principle of equality before the law. This hard-fought-for concept of one law for all remains among the greatest achievements not only of our country but of humankind. Any court not abiding 100% by the law of the land has no more status than a kangaroo court.’

And in conclusion:

‘Today this House has an opportunity to make a stand and draw a firm line. It should be this: that no British citizen should ever sit before a court or judge whose basic principles are in opposition to the most cherished principles of this country and its law. Whether we have the confidence to draw this line clearly will not only affect the issue of integration in this country, it will send out a signal about the kind of country we and our children would wish to live in.’

Sadly, after a number of other important contributions to the debate, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, speaking for the government brushed the whole thing away.  After a range of abstract objections he said:

‘The Government are not convinced that introducing the measures proposed in this Bill…’

Fortunately Lord Carlile was back:

‘My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. He has given an Olympian exegesis of the processes and laws and consultations that are available to deal with the intellectual problem that underlies the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. However, we are concerned here with real people and real cases. How long does my noble friend expect it will take before these Olympian provisions and attentions lead to the removal of these injustices from the history of real people in the United Kingdom?’

Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

‘I thank my noble friend for that intervention because it gives me an opportunity to conclude by saying that the Government are fully committed to protecting the rights of all citizens, and there is legislation in place to uphold those rights. What I said earlier is that the Government are actively working with groups to ensure that there is awareness and a change of attitude.’

More of the same wind follows. You can read the whole debate from here onwards.

Of course the official line of the government remains that there is no need for a clarification or amendment of the arbitration act. The government’s line continues to be that there is nothing to see here, and please could everybody look away and move on. It is the view of a number of people who have recently been in the cabinet, and some who remain there.

Thank goodness for Baroness Cox, that she and a range of other peers remain committed to highlighting issues which Parliament must address but all too rarely does address. If there were more people like Baroness Cox in the House and fewer Gardiners, Parliament might recover some of the esteem among the general public which it so conspicuously currently lacks.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Anonymous

    I am a Christian woman living in London and I fell in love and married a muslim man who was very westernised and didn’t really follow his religion. after our marriage he changed and now does follow his religion. He planned our Nikah and told me about it… I didn’t no what Nikah was… He told me it was just a blessing so I agreed to go. After signing the nikah I looked into it and have realised that i wavered my rights under shiara law by signing the Nikah (blessing) and if we divorce I get nothing and my children are taken away to him and his family. This is a cruel thing to do and not tell me what I am signing, i love this man and i trusted him, he assured me and begged me to take the so called blessing or he would not marry me and i have to leave our home so i didnt really have a choice. he said it was a blessing from god so I could see no harm and it was all said and written in Arabic so I didn’t understand any of it. Does Sharia law apply to a Christian in England? We also had our marriage registered in an English registry office. Please answer this question for me I am very worried thank you

    • Cindy Louise Hunt-Youssef

      As a British citizen a Christian or not you are governed by the laws of the land ‘English Law’ not so called ‘sharia’ it has no legal standing in this country and in my humble opinion does not belong here. It is barbaric and ancient. If people want to be governed by ‘sharia’ they should go to a country that recognises it but honestly, God help them!

  • ShahMassoud

    Another problem with Islam is it legitimizes rape of non-Muslims women and taking sex-slaves in war.

    Sahih Muslim 8:3432 (Hadith)

    Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported that at the Battle of Hunain Allah’s Messenger sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:” And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (Quran 4: 24)” (i. e. they were lawful for them when their ‘Idda period came to an end).

    Bukhari vol 3,Book46, No. 717

    “Narrated Ibn Aun:
    Prophet had suddenly attacked Bani Mustaliq without warning while they were heedless and their cattle were being watered at the places of water. Their fighting men were killed and their women and children were taken as captives; the Prophet got Juwairiya on that day.

  • ShahMassoud

    The problem with Islam is chauvinism is part of the religion. women are considered inferior to men.

    Sahih Al-Bukhari, Dr. Muhammad Matraji, tr. (New Delhi: Islamic Book Service, 2002), Number 2658

    The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?” The women said: “Yes.” He said: “This is because of the deficiency of her mind.”

  • Augustus

    When, in February 1945, Churchill gave a banquet in honour of the Saudi King Ibn Saud,
    he was told that the King could not allow smoking or drinking in his presence. Churchill
    replied that he was the host, and if it was the King’s religion that made him
    say such things, “my religion prescribed as an absolute sacred rite smoking
    cigars and drinking alcohol before, and if need be, during all meals and the
    intervals between them.”
    See? It’s not so difficult.

  • Jason Mead

    The principle is an extremely simple one. We all live under One Law for All that has been determined by our elected representatives in a democratic society with no exceptions whatsoever.

    If anyone wishes to change that law then they vote for someone who agrees with them. If anyone can’t cope with this then they have the freedom to go and live in some backward Theocracy instead. There is no one stopping those who want to live under Sharia from emigrating to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Iran. If anyone wants to live according to Jewish Law can emigrate to Israel.

    What we cannot have and should never ever tolerate is the Balkanisation of the Law by legitimising Parallel Legal systems. That way leads to the madness of sectarian violence and Kangaroo Courts.

    What about Sikhs? This is what Labour MP John Stonehouse said of the Sikh Bus Driver’s strike in Wolverhampton:

    ““The Sikh communities’ campaign to maintain customs inappropriate in
    Britain is much to be regretted. Working in Britain, particularly in the
    public services, they should be prepared to accept the terms and
    conditions of their employment. To claim special communal rights (or
    should one say rites?) leads to a dangerous fragmentation within
    society. This communalism is a canker; whether practised by one colour
    or another it is to be strongly condemned.””

    He does have a point. Compromising the first time round, we now have the endless free-form madness of religious exceptionalism and self-regarding demands that no coherent society possibly keep up with.

    This is why this pathetic government has kicked the Sharia debate into the long grass. They are frankly terrified of going there and finally doing what is actually right, what the overwhelming majority of the people living here undeniably want: One Law and One Law only under which absolutely everyone is equal, enforced without fear or favour.

    It would be counter intuitive for anyone to even attempt to argue against this and anyone who tries would have to speak simultaneously out of both sides of their mealy mouths explaining why their cretinous cult should be above that law.

    Anyone who doesn’t like that can just leave or simply put up with it.

    • Eddie

      I like this phrase: ‘religious exceptionalism’
      This is exactly what, it seems to me, all religious people demand at some stage or other – Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Christians of various colours.
      I am not saying that for example students shouldn’t be allowed to go home from college half an hour early because of Eid or Hanukha – but the problem is that small reasonable asks like that have acted as the thin end of the wedge to smash the door open to ALL demands.
      So disgustingly the UK allows a Muslim to become an immigrant here and to bring 2 wives!
      Disgustingly, the BBC and others do not allow jokes about Islam or religious with a large number of brown-skinned members, but do about others
      Disgustingly, the general publis has to see and hear news stories about the Mohammed cartoons without seeing them
      Disgustingly our councils and others serve halal meat so as not to offend Muslims but don’t tell anyone
      Disgustingly, requests by religious brown-skinned people are deferred to by both the public and private sector – eg Tesco workers not wanting to handle bacon (in plastic) at the checkout or alcohol!
      One nation, One law – one MAN MAD law. Anyone who disagrees should be given the cab fare to Heathrow and a free one way ticket OUT.

  • JacksDad

    This apathy by government officials is yet another example of our Government being absolutely and completely useless and out of touch with public sentiment. Should we really be surprised?
    @LordBlagger – You confuse the organisations you speak of: ACAS is a non-religious service that aims to settle disputes without resort to courts. The others are religious organisations, so yes, CofE and Jewish courts must be abolished as they potentially interfere with UK law, as do Sharia ‘courts’.
    Our forebears fought hard and long for our current law system, we must not let it be undermined by any religious group or any other organisation.

  • Simon Morgan

    My initial thoughts were that a system of arbitration is not a bad thing per se, but that was assuming both parties could behave in a rational and fair manner. There is simply no chance of these Islamic courts ever behaving in such a manner. I have to applaud Pat Condell for lambasting the institutions that have allowed these Kangaroo Courts into our legal system, and our way of life.

  • Eddie

    Thanks for publishing this. The killer line for me is this, from the woman forced to get written permission from a 7-year-old male relative overseas so she could remarry:
    “I feel betrayed by Britain. I came to this country to get away from all this but the situation is worse here than in my country of origin”.
    This shows exactly where misplaced multiculturalism leads: separate ‘communities’ (ie ghetto dwellers) imposing one view of culture and religion on others, and living separate lives to the mainstrem population – and with the blessing, encouragement and facilitation of the politically correct and deluded, who think anyone with a brown skin and a religion does not have to abide by the same laws as the rest of us.
    As expected, a dominant Saudi-financed fanatical type of Islam sells itself as THE only version of Islam, and bullies all those who will not comply.
    It is time for the multiculturalists to admit they were wrong and that what they have done has made life WORSE for members of minority ethnic and religious groups, not better; we need an integrationist approach – one man-made law, one set of values – and we should not allow anyone to live any other way in isolated islands of 7th century brutality within our British cities.
    Just think of how many people (not just women) have been killed in so-called honour killings, have been forced into marriages (girls and boys), have been made to ear headscarves and burkas, have been forced to pray 5 times a day and live a life of religious devotion which Muslims certainly did not live 30 years ago in the UK and which many Muslims in Asia and places like Bosnia have never lived either.
    Would separate courts and laws be allowed for other groups? White atheists for example? Of course not! Ergo, allowing those with brown skins (which most Muslims have) a separate law is racist. Those who support multiculturalism as an ideology are thus proven racists.
    And why on earth do we still allow people who believe in myths and sky-pixies any privilege in law – and that applies to the Catholics, evangelicals, African Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and well as Muslims. Why does believing in this mumbojumbo mean you can claim special privilege at all? It’s nuts!

  • anyfool

    If you want Muslim women to feel safe all Sharia courts should be made illegal, FGM, dodgy divorce, polygamy should be pursued up to and including jail, if a women is facing serious injury and death for so called family honour by relatives and inlaws the perpetrators should be jailed and then deported.

    • James Wakeham

      Polygamy is an interesting point. As far as I can tell, it’s only illegal because of the religious dominance over most of our laws. Is there a secular argument against polygamy?

      • Callen

        Yes, it is against human nature and only possible in societies where women are forced into accepting it. Or does Islam permit women to have multiple husbands? There are some women who wish to live in MFF menage a trois arrangements but they are very much the exception and can do so under our current law.

        • Londonview

          Actually it’s not against human nature. It’s against our cultural norms.

          • FrenchNews

            It also costs a lot of money with the polygamous husbands in a position to claim the full palette of welfare benefits in each of their myriad marriages thus legally abusing the system.

          • Sarah

            Bollox. Women and children feel pain and jealousy too. It’s not a man’s preserve.

            • Londonview

              What on earth are you on about!

              What has pain and jealously got to do with what I’m talking about. If you read a bit more you would know that evolutionary Biologists and social scientists agree with what I say …. or do you not believe in evolution.

              Let me make my position clear. I said that Polygamy is NOT against human nature. This is because it is the most efficient way of spreading healthy genes. It is against social norms, because we have constructed a system of a nuclear family with a male/female pairing.

              I am not advocating polygamy, but to say that it is against human nature is simply incorrect as witnessed by our closest relatives …. apes.

              • Eddie

                Oh don’t worry about Sarah – she’s just a hissing spitting manhating feminist hysteric – and often a very confused one! She is answering what she THOUGHT you said (which was that women are inferior to men) and not what you ACTUALLY said – she does it all the time.
                But don’t worry:
                Everyone can see the point you are making: that biology (human nature) and societal norms can be in conflict and are not always the same – and change with time too.
                You are of course right: evolution created men and women unequal in aptitude, instinct and nature, because of their differing reproductive and societal roles. Males have billions of sperm and the most successful (rich, famous, powerful) men will attract more women and have more kids (like Ghengis Khan) – so thousand of children are possible; at most a woman can have 25 children, and that’s pushing it! Thus it would be highly unlikely for a woman to have four husbands (who would fight) but is normal for a man to have four women bearing his issue.

                • Londonview

                  Glad that you understand my point. I wasn’t even advocating any particular point in regard to what would be preferable, just merely stating a fact.

              • ShahMassoud

                It make sense in a society with a high death rate for men because of war and hunting. Humans are not hunter gatherers anymore.

                It make no sense in a society were men and women are 50-50

      • Loren Trigo
        the cycle of death:
        polygamy becomes the new law
        polygamy creates inequality for vast numbers of young men who become biologically superfluous because they can’t get wives
        angry young men who radicalize and form supremacist jihadists
        jihadists who extend the borders of Islam and polygamy
        and the deadly cycle begins again…
        and that’s just what happens to the men…the sons…
        who grow up love/hating their mother, wife number n (of 4 allowed by Islam)
        dishonored by divorce, utterly powerless and despised…
        yet is the only person in the world who loves them…ah the pain of the sons…
        who grow up longing for their powerful (because unreachable) father
        who cares a fig for them, since he has other sons…
        and all values that do not derive from the worship of testosterone (e.g. equality before the law, rule by reason) become antivalues…
        Remember that in bronze and stone age cultures (e.g. New Guinea) women and girls live in the animal pen under the house-on-stilts, in the mud with the pigs and the chickens, while men and boys live upstairs in the house…
        That’s what’s natural.

        • James Wakeham

          Interesting article you linked. I am not sure about your conclusions (that’s for another topic) but thanks for the link anyhoo.

      • anyfool

        No but there is a civil and cultural argument, the European Judea/christian civilisation has been the sole civilisation to advance in the last 3000 years.

        • Londonview

          That statement is utter nonsense. If you read more you would find that major advances in science and medicine were made in the Islamic world at the time when Northern Europeans were living in huts and painting themselves blue.

          Please don’t live up to your username.

          • anyfool

            No, there was not even a Islamic religion when the west started to advance, you spout politically correct nonsense. even Alexander the Great was a bit more advanced than a lot of current Muslim societies, no FGM or killing schoolgirls who wanted to learn. most of his barbaric practices are still a factor in some Muslim societies.

            • Londonview


              • terence patrick hewett

                Remember the battle of Lepanto: when technology replaces oil for our energy needs it will be back to shagging the camels in the desert for you lot.

                • Londonview

                  You are such an idiot …. what do you mean “you lot”? I’m neither Muslim nor Arab. I just regard facts over prejudice …. you are to be pityed

          • ShahMassoud

            Pure bull. Muslim contributed nothing. Most of the so called contributions to the west were gained from conquered civilization such as India and Chinese.

            The Zero came from the Indians. Paper making and explosives from the Chinese.

            Once again only destruction and no contributions.

            Imagine how advanced the world would be if not for the destroyed Persian and Byzantium civilizations. Islam is a destroyer of civilization.

      • ShahMassoud

        Yes. Polygamy in Muslim countries means rich men by all the women they want leaving many young less successful men with no options but either rape women or become suicide bombers.

        The joys of Islam…

        • Londonview

          Is that a BNP talking point?

  • Kevin

    “This gender discrimination violates the fundamental legal principle in this country that custody should be determined according to the best interests of the child.”

    Baroness Cox will have lost a lot of her audience at this point. The fundamental legal principle in this country is that the mother gets the children.

    An auxiliary principle may come into play in extreme cases, for example if during the hearing the mother tries to eat the gavel.

  • Daniel Maris

    Yes – I was impressed when I first heard about this Bill. For once politicians were addressing a serious issue with serious intent.

    Part of the problem is that the Jewish Beth Din courts got a toehold in our system. That should never have happened either.

    We need further provisions. All rulings by such tribunals should be given in English and published on the internet and copied to the Police. Failure to do so should invite heavy punishment.

  • Ron Todd

    To be fair yes the Jewish courts would have to go even
    though they are relatively benign and the majority of people using them will be
    able to speak English and know there is a secular justice system they can use. Church courts deal with church administrative
    matters and have extremely limited power over church members.

    ACAS as far as I know does not run under a set of medieval rules that intentionally discriminate against women.

    • T. Botham

      There would be no “fairness” in abolishing the Jewish courts. These function on the understanding – the rule – that no decision of the court may conflict with or break the law of the nation. The giving of religious divorces to free the woman – or man – for religious remarriage is not doctrinally or procedurally biased against women. Judaism now – and for a very long time – does not sanction violence against women.
      “Fairness” is equality before the law, and like being treated with like. The Muslim courts are unlike the Jewish courts. I have no idea what Church courts deal with – defrocking? – but I suspect that they do not apply laws that conflict with national law. Sharia is not merely a body of religious doctrine, but a system of law governing behavior and relationships. It is deeply in conflict with British law, especially with regard to family and domestic matters. It is no exaggeration to say that it condones and promotes the enslavement of women by men. It should have no jurisdiction in the UK. It has no legitimacy, and British law should not countenance an alternative – and subversive – legal system, simply because it defines itself as religion. We cannot tolerate a theocracy in the midst of a secular democracy.
      Religiosity should be tolerated – not respected – where harmless. Where it arrogates to itself privileges that place its believers above the law, it is no longer “religion” – but sedition. The conservative government may not like the idea of Muslim mobs on the streets, but riot can turn into insurgency. Does Cameron fear a fate like Gaddafi’s or Mubarak’s?

      • James Martin
        • AY

          yes Jews did get “special treatment” in nazi death camps.
          despite they never tried imposing their rules on Germans.

          denying peaceful and private practices preserving Jewish identity – would be a continuation of nazi policies.

          sharia on the other hand, is used before and in modern days as justification for systematic suppression of rights and freedoms of women, gays, and nonmuslims, causing countless crimes and deaths all over the planet.

          beth din court and sharia court are both courts.
          mouse and elephant are both mammals.

        • Hexhamgeezer

          One’s skin fairly crawls reading crap like that JM

        • Andy Gill

          The Jews have been living here for centuries and have never tried to set up a system of law that conflicts with the law of the land. It is the Muslim approach to Sharia that is problematic, and which the British people are concerned about. Rightly so in my opinion.

  • LordBlagger

    So I presume that ACAS is going to be abolished too. It’s a legal system outside the official system.

    Just like Jewish courts too. Are they going to go?

    Church of England courts? Are they going to be made illegal.

    After all the state and the legal profession have most of it nicely tied up. Expensive, all to the profit of those involved.

    • Daniel Maris

      Er – no.

      The point about these voluntary tribunals is that none of them should be making any pronouncements claiming any kind of legal force (“legal” in the broadest sense) on matters which Parliament itself has made a matter of law e.g. our marriage laws, custody of children, legal age of consent. And their judgements should not be made behind closed doors or in foreign languages.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here