Guidance to solicitors on how to draw up sharia wills in accordance with British law has been withdrawn after criticism by the justice secretary and campaign groups, with the body responsible offering apologies for the works which one group said “legitimised sharia law”.
The Law Society, the professional body for solicitors, introduced the document in March which instructed its members on how to make documents signed for Muslim clients compliant with sharia law, while remaining within the bounds of the Wills Act 1837. The document stated “illegitimate and adopted children are not sharia heirs”, and that “the male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir”. Further, it said “non-Muslims may not inherit at all” and that “a divorced spouse is no longer a sharia heir”.
The National Secular Society, one of the main groups opposing the guidance objected to sharia wills “on the grounds that it encouraged discrimination, legitimised sharia law, and was religious, rather than legal advice”. The director of the National Secular Society, Keith Porteous Wood, said: “This is an important reversal for what had seemed to be the relentless march of sharia to becoming de facto British law.
“Until now, politicians and the legal establishment either encouraged this process or spinelessly recoiled from acknowledging what was happening. I congratulate the Law Society for heeding the objections we and others made. This is particularly good news for women who fare so badly under sharia, which is non-democratically determined, non-human rights compliant and discriminatory”.
The Law Secular Society, who claim to have been the first group to have raised objection to the guidance welcomed the move, and were especially vocal in their criticism of sharia itself. Their press statement stated: “In this jurisdiction sharia has the status of mere theology. Long may that continue.
“Sharia also has a truly dreadful human rights record, and the highest court in our land, the then House of Lords, has already held that sharia breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore by issuing any sharia guidance at all the Law Society would still be legitimising and endorsing sharia more generally.
“Arguably, “benign” sharia guidance would be even more harmful than the discriminatory guidance we have seen because it would be highly deceptive: it is an observable fact that sharia is not benign. It is not the Law Society’s business to reform sharia or to peddle sharia”.
The director of the Law Society said in a press release: “Our practice note was intended to support members to better serve their clients as far as is allowed by the law of England and Wales.
“We reviewed the note in the light of criticism. We have withdrawn the note and we are sorry”
Although the guidance has been withdrawn, the advice given remains legitimate and legal under long-standing British law, which allows benefactors to endow their legacies how they see fit. Groups such as MuslimLawyer.co.uk, who offer advice on running sharia as a parallel legal system will be able to continue unimpeded.
The MuslimLawyer remarks on it’s “many” clients who choose not to engage in British laws, and offers its services to these people: “Our solicitors have considerable amount of experience in dealing with both the laws of England and Wales and Sharia… We find many Muslims get married only in Sharia and stop short of registry office weddings (in English law).
“This introduces a situation where Sharia is the only law that can be applied yet it is voluntary (parties can disregard rulings) as only the state courts are able to enforce their decisions. This results in there being very limited legal workable solution within the marriage context”.
Athough criminal matters are settled in ordinary courts in England and Wales, increasingly civil disputes between Muslim parties are settled in official sharia courts, or sharia councils which now exist in great numbers. The first such court, which was founded in 2007 within the extensive landscaped grounds of an English country house-turned private Islamic faith school on the outskirts of Nuneaton, Warwickshire saw over 100 cases in its first year.
The tribunal lays down judgements on matters including forced marriages, family, charitable, and inheritance disputes. The decisions made are upheld by a county court bailiff or high court sheriff, and the parties involved are bound to abide by them in law, reports the Coventry Telegraph.