What is Sharia law?
Sharia law is a form of Islamic law, common across the Muslim world, which derives from many sources including the Holy Qur’an. Until recently it had not been recognised as valid law in the UK. Whilst predominantly it holds very little legitimacy within the UK, recent developments, particularly in relation to the Arbitration Act, has given some recognition to its principles.
The Arbitration Act
Under the Arbitration Act, Sharia law has been deemed a form of arbitration for Muslim civil cases within the UK.
This is extremely controversial as Sharia law does not offer the same civil rights protection, particularly to woman, as UK law. However, as a result of the act many Muslim cases are being arbitrated under Sharia law, from matters involving finance, domestic violence and family marriage breakdowns.
As Sharia law is acknowledged under the Arbitration Act it is now enforceable within the forum of arbitration the UK.
Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution. It is used in a variety of different disputes as a cheaper alternative to running a case to a full-blown trial.
The process of arbitration
The actual process is quite similar to that of a trial in that both sides will submit their case, often using witness statements, and then an independent arbitrator will make a decision which is usually binding.
Both parties will agree in advance if the arbitration will be binding and who to appoint as an adjudicator (usually a lawyer).
Recently, more people have chosen to use mediation rather than arbitration due to the increasing costs associated with arbitration as it becomes more and more like a final hearing.
However, with the opportunity to use Sharia law within arbitration, many Muslims in the UK are now turning to arbitration as a way of settling disputes.
Restrictions on use of Sharia law
There have, however, been severe restrictions placed on the use of Sharia law, even in arbitration disputes.
All Sharia courts are classified as tribunals and therefore both parties must beforehand agree to give power to the court to make a binding decision.
Once this is given, arbitration will be subject to the usual provisions of alternative dispute resolution, and an arbitrator will hear from both sides, often have an expert witness (depending on the type of dispute), and then reach a ruling which will be binding on both parties.
This is generally seen as a way of protecting certain individuals who would perhaps be less well protected by Sharia law.
There have been some severe criticisms of the decision to allow a form of Sharia law to operate within the UK, even if it is only where both parties agree in advance.
One particular concern is that many women may be pressured into submitting to this type of law which is generally seen to favour men.
An alternative argument is that it is allowing Muslims in this country to settle disputes in accordance with their religious beliefs, and not under UK law.
On the whole, Sharia law is not recognised by UK law, however the Arbitration Act has allowed for parties that wish to use it to be able to under a tribunal format. If you are unsure of the enforceability of Sharia law, you should contact a solicitor for legal advice.
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