One of the UK’s leading sharia courts “protects wife-beating suspects by sabotaging criminal proceedings against them”, a Parliamentary committee has heard.
The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, is just one of the UK’s 80 Islamic “councils”, set up in 2007 ostensibly to help resolve civil and family disputes in accordance with Islamic scripture.
According to their own website, MAT cannot deal with criminal offences, but “parties can ask Mat to assist in reaching reconciliation” where “there are criminal charges such as assault within the context of domestic violence.
“The terms of such a reconciliation can then be passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) through the local Police Domestic Violence Liaison Officers with a view to reconsidering the criminal charges”, the website adds.
However, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) – a left-leaning, all-Asian group – said the court is actively working to shield allegedly violent and Muslim husbands from criminalization. The claim came in evidence submitted to a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into sharia courts.
In 2008, the Sunday Times revealed that MAT had intervened in six cases of domestic violence, leading to complaints lodged with the police being withdrawn by the women. MAC told the men to undergo anger management classes and mentoring from “community elders”.
“The Mat actively involves itself in criminal proceedings on domestic violence. It uses its position of power to persuade the [Crown Prosecution Service] CPS to drop charges and to encourage women to reconcile with abusive partners without reference to court orders they may already have or to risk assessments and safety planning,” SBS’s submission insists.
They are now asking the CPS to “reconsider” certain cases described as an “attempt to sabotage criminal proceedings”.
On their website, SBS added: “Our concern is that religious arbitration forums are gaining power and significance as parallel legal system in which women are treated unfairly, especially in relation to divorce, maintenance, custody over children, inheritance and property matters.”
Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, told the Sunday Times:
“When a formal criminal charge is laid it is not appropriate for an extrajudicial institution to bring the victim and her alleged attacker together to seek a ‘resolution’ beyond the control of the UK courts and certainly not where that institution itself has a questionable approach to the rights of women and to their supposed place in society.”
MAT said: “We condemn actions taken by anyone to restrict or impede the pathway to justice sought by any victim of domestic violence.”