Equality in the family and Sharia law bodies

// 3 April 2012

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Pupil barrister Charlotte Rachael Proudman writes in the Independent about her experiences representing Muslim women at Sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals across the UK. She argues that these bodies operate as a parallel legal system alongside the UK courts, applying procedures and producing outcomes that conflict with the principles of equality required by Parliamentary legislation:

Many Sharia law bodies rule on a range of disputes from domestic violence to child residence all of which should be dealt with by UK courts of law. Having observed Sharia law bodies ruling on legal disputes it is all too apparent that they operate within a misogynist and patriarchal framework which is incompatible with UK legislation. For instance, the cost of an Islamic divorce is £400 for a woman compared to £200 for a man at the Islamic Sharia Council in East London; this is an example of blatant gender discrimination which is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010.

With over 85 Sharia law bodies operating in the UK, the majority of which charge vulnerable and impoverished Muslim women astronomical fees, Sharia law bodies have become successful and lucrative businesses. For instance the Islamic Sharia Council rules on over 500 Islamic divorces per annum at a cost of £400 for every woman applicant, equating to an annual turnover of £200,000 for Islamic divorces only. If we consider the additional legal disputes they rule upon it is likely some Sharia law bodies have an annual turnover of over £500,000. The majority of women I represent can barely afford a £15 weekly shop let alone £400 for an Islamic divorce. These destitute women have been forced to pawn their jewellery and take out loans from dangerous loan sharks in order to pay for Islamic divorces that are not even guaranteed and ultimately to fund a service that is pricing women out of the Sharia law market.

More information on this subject can be found at the website of campaigning group One Law for All, whose report on Sharia law bodies can be downloaded here.

Comments From You

Yakoub Islam // Posted 5 April 2012 at 3:28 pm

In Judaic law, the husband has unilateral right to refuse so it wouldn’t even get to arbitration. Herein lies the problem with articles like this – I’m happy to see arbitration law reviewed or its practice reviewed, but arbitration in religious courts takes place in both Jewish and Muslim communities. If we’re only going to talk about ONLY Muslims, I have to ask, why? Is it because newspapers are more likely publish criticisms directed at the Muslim community compared to the Jewish one? Coz Muzzie bashing is good copy, innit.

Jolene Tan // Posted 5 April 2012 at 6:46 pm

Yakoub, I agree that many people with bigoted anti-Muslim attitudes tend to wrongly present Islam and Muslim communities as somehow uniquely or especially sexist. However, there are also broader critiques of religious courts across communities (for example those made by Women Against Fundamentalism) and I don’t think that every article or organisation which talks about religious courts is necessarily obliged to deal with every single variant. If the author of the Independent article has particular experience with sharia law bodies, but not with other institutions, why shouldn’t she talk about that experience?

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