Britain to Integrate Islamic Law into its Legal System
London: Islamic law is to be effectively enshrined in the British legal system for the first time under guidelines for solicitors on drawing up “Sharia compliant” wills. Under ground-breaking guidance, produced by The Law Society, High Street solicitors will be able to write Islamic wills that deny women an equal share of inheritances and exclude unbelievers altogether.
The documents, which would be recognized by Britain’s courts, will also prevent children born out of wedlock and even those who have been adopted, from being counted as legitimate heirs. Anyone married in a church, or in a civil ceremony, could be excluded from succession under Sharia principles, which recognize only Muslim weddings for inheritance purposes. Nicholas Fluck, president of The Law Society, said the guidance would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic principles in the British legal system. Some lawyers, however, described the guidance as “astonishing”, while campaigners warned, it represented a major step on the road to a “parallel legal system” for Britain’s Muslim communities. Baroness Cox, a cross-bench peer leading a Parliamentary campaign to protect women from religiously sanctioned discrimination, including from unofficial Sharia courts in Britain, said it was a “deeply disturbing” development and pledged to raise it with ministers.
The guidance, quietly published this month and distributed to solicitors in England and Wales, details how wills should be drafted to fit Islamic traditions while being valid under British law. It suggests deleting or amending standard legal terms and even words such as “children” to ensure that those deemed “illegitimate” are denied any claim over the inheritance. It recommends that some wills include a declaration of faith in Allah which would be drafted at a local mosque, and hands responsibility for drawing up some papers to Sharia courts.
The guidance goes on to suggest that Sharia principles could potentially overrule British practices in some disputes, giving examples of areas that would need to be tested in English courts. Currently, Sharia principles are not formally addressed by or included in Britain’s laws. However, a network of Sharia courts has grown up in Islamic communities to deal with disputes between Muslim families. A few are officially recognized tribunals, operating under the Arbitration Act.
One study estimated that there were now around 85 Sharia bodies operating in Britain. But the new Law Society guidance represents the first time that an official legal body has recognized the legitimacy of some Sharia principles. It opens the way for non-Muslim lawyers in High Street firms to offer Sharia will drafting services. The document sets out crucial differences between Sharia inheritance laws and Western traditions.