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Sharia Law: neither equal nor free


Update on Baroness Cox’s Equality Bill

One Law for All has been spending a lot of time recently working with Caroline Cox and her team in promoting the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equalities) Bill. The aim of the Bill, which was introduced to the House of Lords last year, is to make arbitration services in the UK subject to equality laws and to bar any arbitration where parties are of unequal standing; for example, it would disallow arbitration providers placing greater weight on the testimony of one party over another, as is the case with sharia law where a wife’s word is worth only half of her husband’s. The Bill will also create a criminal offence and make it illegal for arbitration bodies to pretend they have greater jurisdiction than they do – in other words, preventing them from misinforming people that they must obey their rulings. It will also place a duty on public bodies in the UK to inform women of their rights under British law.

The Bill is due for a second reading in the House of Lords this October. Many Peers have already pledged support but we need your help in persuading them further. If you have time, please write to any members of the House of Lords and ask them to consider the seriousness of this Bill and its need in maintaining a society where all people are equal before a single secular and democratic law. In your letter, you could point out to Peers that the Islamic Sharia Council and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal both openly acknowledge that the testimony of women is given less value than that of men, that custody of children is awarded to fathers regardless of the circumstances, and that sharia family law permits, and therefore encourages, domestic violence and the abuse of women and children. You can find out how to write to Peers here. You can read the bill here.

‘Equal and Free?’, a book of evidence compiled in support of the Bill, can be found here. It includes testimony from women who have been through the sharia family law system here in Britain, as well as charities and groups which work closely with these women. It also looks at other religious tribunals, such as the Beth Din, and the effect the Bill may have on arbitration more broadly.

Debates and Conferences

One of the issues of concern to those deciding whether to support the Bill is that it may represent an infringement on religious liberty. One Law for All maintains that the right to freedom of religion ends at the point where other people’s rights begin. Sharia family and criminal law represent a serious infringement upon the rights of women to receive a fair hearing and to live without violence or the threat of violence. We will be holding a debate on this issue in the coming months and will invite members of both Houses of Parliament to attend – further details will follow. For more information on other speaking engagements and events, visit here.

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TAGGED: HUMAN RIGHTS, ISLAM, LAW


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