| ||The Guardian today reports on a bill to be introduced in the Lords by Crossbencher, Baroness Caroline Cox under which “Islamic courts would be forced to acknowledge the primacy of English law”. |
“The bill, proposed by Lady Cox and backed by women's rights groups and the National Secular Society, was drawn up because of "deep concerns" that Muslim women are suffering discrimination within closed sharia law councils.
“The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill will introduce an offence carrying a five-year jail sentence for anyone falsely claiming or implying that sharia courts or councils have legal jurisdiction over family or criminal law. The bill, which will apply to all arbitration tribunals if passed, aims to tackle discrimination, which its supporters say is inherent in the courts, by banning the sharia practice of giving woman's testimony only half the weight of men's.
“Cox said: "Equality under the law is a core value of British justice. My bill seeks to preserve that standard"”
One would have to ask what reason there could possibly be to force Islamic courts to “acknowledge the primacy of English law” when according to workings of the Arbitration Act as spelt out by former Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, “…No court will endorse an agreement which conflicts with English law.
“But given the fact that speculation abounds on this point, let me say once again: There is nothing whatever in English law that prevents people abiding by Sharia principles if they wish to, provided they do not come into conflict with English law. There is no question about that. But English law will always remain supreme, and religious councils subservient to it.”
Aina Khan responds to the Guardian’s inquiry on the bill by pointing out the irony that while purportedly being introduced on grounds of addressing discrimination faced by women, “Eighty per cent of its users are women.”
Judge Khurshid Drabu adds, "Bills of this kind don't help anybody. They don't appear to understand that we live in a free country where people can make free choices. Yet again, it appears to be a total misunderstanding of the concept that underpins these arbitration councils. Sharia councils operate under consent. If there is a woman who suffers as a result of a decision by one of these councils a woman is free to go to the British courts."
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