Monday, October 27, 2008

One law for everyone, continued ...

The government has announced that Sharia courts can deal with issues of property, children and family matters under the UK arbitration act 1996, and then submit their rulings to a UK court for ratification.

This is permissable under UK law providing that the proceedings are fully voluntary and that both parties to a dispute are treated equally. There is plenty of precedent for writing into a contract that both sides agree arbitration on a particular basis. Five Sharia courts currently operate mediation systems under the Arbitration Act.

However, it is extremely important that if Sharia courts are ruling on family matters there are safeguards to ensure that the treatment of women if even-handed and that their agreement to take part in these proceedings is both fully voluntary and based on informed consent.

Dr David Green, the Director of the Civitas think tank, told the Telegrapph: "I think there are a number of problems with regards to Sharia law. These Sharia councils are supposed to operate under the Arbitration Act which allows citizens in a free society to settle their disputes on a voluntary basis if they so wish.

"But that legislation assumes that both parts are regarded as being equal. I think the problem is with tribunals like these you can't always be sure that women would be treated equally.

"Under Islam a man can divorce a woman just by saying I divorce you three times. But a woman must go to a Sharia court to seek a divorce. Often the ruling goes in favour of the woman, but I think on the whole these councils are institutions for male domination. As a result I do not believe these rulings and proceedings should be recognised under British law.

"Under the traditions of Sharia law the voice of a women is not equal to that of a man."

Conservative spokesmen Nick Herbert, (shadow Justice minister) and, Paul Goodman, shadow minister for communities and local government, have also expressed concern about this.

Mr Goodman said he did not object to the new rules in principle, on condition that all women were in receipt of proper safeguards. But he criticised the manner in which the Government had quietly introduced the new rules.

"The manner in which the Government has introduced these rules has been completely unsatisfactory," he said. "There was no major announcement about this when it was quietly introduced in 2007. The public have been kept in the dark about what is going on."

"Our understanding is that certain Muslim arbitration tribunals have been licensed to operate in the confines of the Arbitration Act just like the Jewish beth din courts. We have no objection in principle to these organisations operating within the confinements of the Arbitration Act.

"But we would be concerned about Sharia councils operating outside the confines of the Arbitration Act. We have raised concerns that in all circumstances women who attend these proceedings should and must attend on a voluntary basis."

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