| ||Lord ‘cricket test’ Tebbit courts controversy once again with his latest remarks suggesting that Shari'ah law councils are similar to the 'system of arbitration of disputes that was run by the Kray brothers'. |
Lord Tebbit questioning Lord Bach, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice, on the use made of Shari'ah arbitration tribunals in the UK, said:
'Are you not aware that there is extreme pressure put upon vulnerable women to go through a form of arbitration that results in them being virtually precluded from access to British law?'.
Lord Bach, repeated Jack Straw’s earlier assurances that English law would remain pre-eminent where arbitration was undertaken by mandated Shari'ah law tribunals.
In Oct 2008, Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, speaking at the Islamic Finance and Trade conference, sought to put an end to the fear-mongering of those that speak in alarmist tones of ‘parallel legal systems’. He said:
‘The facts in the UK are these. If, in a family dispute, parties reach an agreement with the help of a Sharia council and want to have that decision recognised under national law, they can submit a consent order to an English court in the terms of the agreement. But it is ultimately up to the English court to decide whether the agreement complies with English law. In family cases, the court will consider a range of issues including the future welfare of the parties and their children. No court will endorse an agreement which conflicts with English law.
‘Likewise, communities have the option to use religious councils to help them come to agreements about other personal disputes. But those agreements will always be subject to English law and cannot be enforced through the English courts, apart from in the very limited circumstances where the religious council acts as an arbitrator.
‘The statutory base for such arbitration in these cases is the Arbitration Act 1996 - and nothing has changed in the 12 years since that legislation was passed.
‘Crucially, any member of any religious community - or indeed, any other community - has the right to refer to an English court, particularly if they feel pressured or coerced to resolve an issue in a way in which they feel uncomfortable.
‘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.’
The supremacy of English law has always been the case with the very similar Jewish Beth Din courts that have existed and operated for decades in the UK. Never has the authority of English law been questioned in relation to the arbitration offered by the Jewish courts, so why then the fuss concerning Shari'ah tribunals that operate under exactly the same regulations? Sadly, for no other reason than that the latter are intended for use by Muslims. Rarely does one hear of the criticisms made of the Shari'ah courts similarly extended to the Beth Din courts though both essentially serve the same purpose.
Perhaps Lord Tebbit might apprise himself of the facts before engaging in his peculiar brand of moralising.
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