Friday, 19 September 2008

Law of the land

Whilst the comedy antics of the character Ali G can occasionally be excruciating sometimes he can raise some fundamental issues with great effect. In the UK, with a growing cultural, ethnic and religiously diverse population, there have been growing demands for rulings by religious courts, Sharia law, for example. This week a small item in The Times provides some clarification:

Sharia courts are back in the news with reports that they are operating in several cities — and are enforceable in the English justice system. Lawyers say, however, that Sharia is no more enforceable than any other religious community courts — such as the Beth Din courts operated by the Jewish community. If either party went to court with a ruling from a Sharia court, it would be upheld only if the court independently would reach the same conclusion — in other words, if it complied with the law. Geraldine Morris, a family expert with LexisNexis, said: “It remains that the only way to divorce in this country is through the family courts, but religious courts may have a role to play in mediation between estranged couples.” She said that many Sharia courts did not recognise that husbands could divorce wives by pronouncing the talaq three times — but even if they did “such action would certainly not result in a divorce under the laws of England and Wales”. In other areas Sharia was more ahead, she added, such as in recognising marriage contracts setting out provisions in the event of a divorce. In the court system they are not binding although they are increasingly persuasive. In short, Muslims in this country needed to be both married and divorced under the law of the land — although Islamic marriages and divorces conducted in Muslim countries were recognised as valid in the UK. As with Jewish communities, the role of community courts is largely limited to mediation and the grant of a religious divorce. The Sharia courts could be no different, she said. “Where concern should arise is when a religious court purports to replace the family court — there is only one system of family law in the UK and it should be open to all who need it.”

So, it's back to the law of the land:

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