No arbitrator should encourage a victim of domestic violence to stay with the perpetrator

// 21 September 2008

OK, first a disclaimer: I’m no legal expert, but my instinct is that this story in the Times, about sharia arbitrators, absolutely stinks of an attempt to whip up anti-Muslim feeling. A hefty pinch of salt is needed.

What concerns me is fundamentally not to do with who is doing the arbitration, which is (I’m told) a common and optional alternative to civil proceedings. As the story alludes to, Jewish halachic courts have been doing this for ages.

The problem it is that the arbitrator in question thinks that reconciliation and withdrawal of criminal charges is a good outcome in a domestic violence case:

In the six cases of domestic violence, Siddiqi said the judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders. There was no further punishment.

In each case, the women subsequently withdrew the complaints they had lodged with the police and the police stopped their investigations.

Siddiqi said that in the domestic violence cases, the advantage was that marriages were saved and couples given a second chance.

That is not OK, that is extremely dangerous. I also don’t understand why domestic violence falls under the category of cases that could be dealt with by an arbitrator – it seems totally inappropriate.

Comments From You

Kath // Posted 22 September 2008 at 1:28 pm

You’re damn right domestic violence shouldn’t be allowed to come before sharia courts but nor should divorce (the majority of cases), family disputes or inheritance cases. In all of these situations women are likely to be at risk and have their rights violated. Women have fought hard for equal representation under the law, for more female judges (it’s still pretty appalling) and for family courts to deal with domestic issues. These safeguards need to apply to ALL women living in the UK, regardless of their religious, cultural or ethnic background. The fact that Beth Din courts already exist is no excuse for an expansion of this inequality under the law.

As for your disclaimer, I am at a loss as to what you are objecting to. The article seems like a perfectly straightforward reporting of the news. Would you prefer that we didn’t know about the domestic violence cases? Or about the women being awarded half the amount of inheritance as their brothers?

Jess McCabe // Posted 22 September 2008 at 5:23 pm

Kath – well, I think when we read these stories it’s necessary to take into account the Islamophobic tone of our media and, all too often, government.

For example, in this story the information about domestic violence and inheritance cases comes near the bottom of a story – 12 paragraphs go by before it even gets a mention.

The story should have been ‘arbitrators encouraging women to stay with violent partners’, but instead the newspaper lead with the “revelation” that sharia courts had been considering civil cases.

This is absolutely not a big shock – as I understand it, it’s quite common for civil cases to go to arbitration. Why should the Muslim community not have its own arbitrators, as is common in other communities? It’s just simple prejudice.

The problem comes if those arbitrators or judges, whoever they are, pull stupid, dangerous shit. As we know, lots of judges are fond of making anti-woman rulings in any number of cases – and the Times’ implication that the British court system is a haven of egalitarian rulings for women, is simply not true. What the newspaper does in this story is set up the woman-friendly British courts against the prejudiced sharia courts – when neither is particularly feminist. Both need to be called out, but we also can’t ignore the other implications here in terms of the implied cultural supremacy.

The existance of the Beth Din courts simply calls attention to the double standard – what is deemed perfectly acceptable in one community, although I can’t help but think there are probably some very negative implications for women, as under Orthodox Jewish law women can’t initiate a divorce, for example, is the stuff of headlines and hand-wringing when it’s a Muslim religious court.

Kath // Posted 22 September 2008 at 5:37 pm

Hi again, I was so angry about this this morning. I am really worried about the women who are involved in these cases. Jess, like you I don’t know the law, but I do share your scepticism over whether these arbitration rulings can be enforced through the judicial system. The claim did come from the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (ie it wasn’t invented by the Times) but it seems to have been refuted by the Ministry of Justice:

I stand by my comments that sharia courts are not desirable under any circumstances however, as I am not sure how much choice women really have about deciding to resolve disputes this way.

Kath // Posted 22 September 2008 at 6:01 pm

Hi Jess,

Thanks for replying. I strongly feel that the only courts that should take on arbitration cases are civil courts – not Sharia, not Beth Din. I don’t see that different communities need different courts – that is simply an erosion of the concept of equality under the law. Islam and Orthodox Judaism both oppress women. The British courts are not a haven of women’s equality but they are better, and more accountable, than any religious court and it is not “Islamophobic” or “culturally supremacist” to say so. You say that it is only when arbitrators pull sexist shit that there is a problem but without accountability there is no way to stop them.

Tom // Posted 22 September 2008 at 9:58 pm

This is curious.. it says the “court” was “working in tandem with the police investigations” for the 6 domestic abuse instances. I’m rather curious as to what role the Police had here. it’s an arbitration committe, no more, no less. If they don’t like the mysoginist evil stone-age (all quotes i’ve heard regarding sharia courts) Sharia “parallel law” courts, they can go to a regular UK court instead .. you know, the ones where a rapist has a higher than 95% chance of getting away with it.

LauraR // Posted 23 September 2008 at 9:46 am

Jess, instead of getting worked up about the supposed Islamophobia in the article, why not channel your energies into being angry about the real feminist issue here – that of women suffering domestic violence. Women are women in this country, irrespective of race, religion or colour, and advocating having separate courts based on one’s (or one’s father’s) belief system is an extremely dangerous way to go.

Cara // Posted 23 September 2008 at 2:26 pm

LauraR – did you miss where Jess said how dangerous and misogynist the arbitrator’s decision is?

It is NOT mutually exclusive to say that 1. Misogyny is bad. Always. Whoever is the perpetrator


2. racism is bad. Including exaggerated “oh brown Muslims are so MISOGYNIST!” claims by people who don’t notice or care about sexism/ misogyny in our own society.

I don’t see the problem with Beth Din or sharia courts, or any other kind of civil arbitration – in cases for which it is suitable and where both parties agree.

I don’t think divorce, domestic violence or other family or “domestic” issues should be dealth with by these courts, these are not trivial issues that the police won’t deal with e.g. a dispute over whether a customer gave the cashier in the local shop £5 or £10 note. They are life-changing issues. Note how anything “domestic” is dismissed as women’s issues, can’t possibly be part of the important men’s world of serious criminal issues.

I can see why some people want to deal with disputes in this way and that’s fine, but there should not be a way to evade the criminal justice system. There can’t be. It is dangerous – essentially I agree with Laura on this. If it’s an issue the police won’t deal with OR if the sharia and Beth Din courts work *with* the police, fine. (And it concerns me is that the police stopped their investigations. I’ve heard of cases before where DV victims are understandably reluctant to pursue the case, and the police don’t really seem to make an effort to persuade them or think of ways to make them more comfortable proceeding. Of course, if she doesn’t want to continue that’s her right – but she may just be scared and need persuading and reassurance).

LauraR // Posted 24 September 2008 at 9:31 pm

@ Cara – I didn’t feel the disclaimer was necessary – simple as that. It detracts from the real issue. You might feel otherwise so we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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