The most senior judge in England yesterday gave his blessing to the use of sharia
law to resolve disputes among Muslims.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips said that Islamic legal principles could be
employed to deal with family and marital arguments and to regulate finance.
He declared: 'Those entering into a contractual agreement can agree that the
agreement shall be governed by a law other than English law.'
In his speech at an East London mosque, Lord Phillips signalled approval of
sharia principles as long as punishments - and divorce rulings - complied with
the law of the land.
But his remarks, which back the informal sharia courts operated by numerous
mosques, provoked a barrage of criticism.
Lawyers warned that family and marital disputes settled by sharia could
disadvantage women or the vulnerable.
Tories said that legal equality must be respected and that rulings incompatible
with English law should never be enforceable.
Lord Phillips spoke five months after Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan
Williams suggested Islamic law could govern marital law, financial transactions
and arbitration in disputes.
The Lord Chief Justice said yesterday of the Archbishop's views: 'It was not
very radical to advocate embracing sharia law in the context of family
He added there is 'widespread misunderstanding as to the nature of sharia law'.
Lord Phillips said: 'Those who are in dispute are free to subject it to
mediation or to agree that it shall be resolved by a chosen arbitrator. There
is no reason why principles of sharia law or any other religious code should
not be the basis for mediation or other forms of dispute resolution.'
Lord Phillips said that any sanctions must be 'drawn from the laws of England
and Wales'. Severe physical punishment - he mentioned stoning, flogging or
amputating hands - is 'out of the question' in Britain, he added. . . .
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