Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered an independent inquiry into Sharia courts in Britain to start in the New Year.
Mrs May ordered the review as concerns grow that Sharia courts are creating a parallel legal system in the country that seriously discriminates against women, The Times reports.
She told MPs yesterday that there should only be one system of law in the UK – that created by Parliament.
“We will never countenance allowing an alternative, informal system, informed by religious principles, to operate in competition with it,” she said.
Last week, Mrs May spoke about the subject to the Home Affairs Select Committee, telling them: “I am very aware that there is concern about how sharia courts are operating in some circumstances in the UK. That is why we will be doing a review.”
The inquiry will be conducted by an independent reviewer, yet to be appointed, who will submit their report to the Home Secretary sometime next year.
The decision follows a study which claims the courts are trapping women in abusive marriages. The report by legal scholar Machteld Zee claimed “[t]here are, in fact, two separate legal orders functioning [in the UK], of which one currently operates in the ‘shadow of the law’.”
In one incident, a judge reportedly laughed at a woman in an abusive relationship, asking her: “Why did you marry such a person?”
Meanwhile, in another case, a judge told a couple “the secular divorce counts for nothing” when they asked if the woman had been validly divorced from her previous husband.
The Islamic Sharia Council disputes her findings.
In July, Britain’s first female Sharia judge said that the government “cannot ask Muslims not to have more than one wife”.
Mrs May’s statement yesterday is not the first time the government has pledged to investigate the courts. In October, Home Office minister Lord Bates told the House of Lords:
“Sharia councils may be working in a discriminatory and unacceptable way.
“That is why, as part of the forthcoming counter-extremism strategy, [the] Government will commission a full, independent investigation to assess to what extent Sharia is being applied in a manner that is unacceptable.
“The review will commence following the appointment of an independent chair.
“The Terms of Reference for the review and its duration will be determined at that point.
“We will act on any evidence of its application which is outside of the law.”