Britain’s underground sharia courts

Small, informal courts are making rulings well beyond their authority

According to the think tank Civitas, at least 85 sharia courts in the U.K. are regularly giving illegal advice on issues including marriages not recognized under English law, polygamy, and disputes regarding children. And some are advising illegal actions. Muslim arbitration tribunal (MTA), a network of sharia courts, has been operating in London, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham and Nuneaton since 2007. Their decisions are legally binding and can be enforced by the English courts, provided they do not conflict with English law, and both parties choose to use them. But Civitas’s report claims that many smaller and often informal courts are making decisions under sharia law beyond their legal remit. “About two-thirds of Muslim marriages are not being registered under the Marriages Act, which is illegal,” said Neil Addison, a barrister specializing in the law on religion. “A woman with such a marriage would have no choice but to go to a sharia tribunal … But it’s not the way arbitration is supposed to work.” And according to Denis MacEoin, the author of the report, divorce under Islamic law also affects the wife’s entitlement to alimony, custody of children, and who keeps the family house. “These will all be decided by sharia law and will be discriminatory towards the woman in all cases.” Sharia courts also need to be more transparent if they are to continue, critics say. “These tribunals don’t seem to have any system of record keeping” said MacEion. “That is a problem that needs to be looked at.”

The Guardian

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