Monday, 12 November 2012

Restoring Justice?

I note with interest that the UK Parliament is currently debating a Bill which will outlaw something the last government permitted by stealth, the setting up of a parallel 'legal' system using Sharia Law to deal with 'civil' cases involving Muslims. What the establishment has ignored completely in this is the fact that these Sharia Courts discriminate illegally against the rights of women. Baroness Caroline Cox, it must be noted a Labour Peeress and a deeply committed Christian, has introduced the Bill to close a loophole exploited by Islamists to enforce Sharia decisions under the Arbitration Acts.

The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Private Members Bill tabled by independent peer and Human Rights campaigner, Baroness Caroline Cox, would not interfere with religious groups who wish to live by their own rules as long as they did not set up parallel legal systems in conflict with British law. However, under the proposed legislation, anyone who falsely claimed the right to adjudicate on criminal or family matters by straying into the remit of civil courts could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Interestingly the Bill is said to be supported by many Muslims, Muslim women's groups and a number of other groups against the imposition of religious 'law' on sections of the population. I find myself in full agreement with Baroness Cox (remarkable in itself) because I believe she is absolutely right, this must be stopped, Parliament and British Justice (flawed though it may be in some instances) cannot be overset by a Religious Legal Code that dates to the 18th Century in Turkey. At present, and with the connivance of certain elements in government and the civil service, there are around 85 'Sharia Courts' operating in Britain. Muslim women are denied the right of appeal, their testimony is only accepted if supported by at least one other woman (a man's word is taken as absolute and needs no support) and they are not permitted to have the matter dealt with by a British Civil Court.

The Bill aims to remove the cloak of 'arbitration' currently used to operate these 'courts' and to impose a number of new duties on those who currently abuse this loophole. As the article I read in The Huffington Post states -

A new duty would be created, warning women against religious marriage ceremonies without civil registration under U.K. law, as upon divorce, they would forgo any state entitlements. Islam is the only religion in the U.K. that fails to register religious marriages.
Individual women, organizations and lawyers who gave evidence prior to the debate drew attention to discrimination in shariah courts, including women's testimony granted only half the weight of men's, inequality in matters of inheritance, divorce and custody, and sanction of polygamy. Women must engage in a lengthy divorce process but men can divorce wives easily and unilaterally. If a divorce is granted, fathers are given custody of children who reach a certain age.
Permission of a male guardian is required before a woman can marry. A widow reported that in order to marry, she had been forced to seek permission from her 11-year-old son living in Jordan, as he represented her guardian under shariah. Forced marriage, under-age marriage and domestic violence are not generally considered criminal offences in shariah courts and U.K. protection orders have been disregarded.
Many women, unable to speak English and ignorant of civil laws, are easily pressured by family and community to keep quiet, and seek arbitration in religious, rather than secular, courts.

The Baroness hopes that the passage of this Bill into Law will put a stop to these abuses. It must be said she is herself a lawyer, trained in the UK system and therefore well aware of the pitfalls of continuing to allow these practices. Under the constitutional mess left by the last government, however, the Bill must first pass the required three readings in the House of Lords and then must receive the approval of Parliament, where it will undoubtedly either be mauled by the self interests of some lobbyists and their puppets if it doesn't run out of time as this current Parliament has many other problems on its plate, not least an election in the not to distant future to worry about.

Hopefully the Baroness' Bill will get the support it needs and achieve the Royal Assent.

1 comment:

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