The Lawyers’ Secular Society has welcomed the news that the Law Society has today (24 November 2014) withdrawn its formal practice note of 13 March 2014 on “sharia succession rules”.
The LSS is pleased to see that the Law Society has now deleted the page of its website that contained the sharia guidance (at http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/practice-notes/sharia-succession-rules/). The page now says “The page you are looking for cannot be found”. The LSS has preserved a PDF of the now-withdrawn guidance here.
The Law Society has sent the LSS a letter which says:
“We have reviewed our practice note on Sharia succession principles following your feedback, and that of our members and other stakeholders. Following this review, we have withdrawn the note and it will no longer be available through our website. We have no plans to amend or replace the note.”
“We are mindful of the criticism we received and we apologise.”
The sharia guidance contained provisions, at section 3.6, which explicitly discriminated against women, non-Muslims, adopted children and “illegitimate” children:
“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class.”
“Non-Muslims may not inherit at all”
“…illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs”
The LSS’s objections to the practice note have been as follows:
- The Law Society had issued guidance on a subject outside of its remit (theology).
- The Law Society had given sharia, which is not only theology but which also has a very poor human rights record, the credibility and respectability of a legal discipline within our jurisdiction.
- The LSS had not in any way challenged the English law principle of testamentary freedom but the LSS strongly felt it was not appropriate for the Law Society to give explicit guidance on how to achieve discrimination. The Law Society would not and should not give guidance on, for example, how to achieve racist objectives in a will even though racist provisions would be lawful, and nor should it have given guidance on how to achieve sexist and religiously discriminatory objectives in a will.
- Anything that undermines or competes with English law, or that is perceived as undermining or competing with English law, is damaging to the principle of equality before the law and the rule of law more generally.
- The practice note was at odds with the Law Society’s own stated commitment to equality and diversity.
The LSS was the first organisation to raise the alarm about this guidance. The LSS strongly and publicly condemned the Law Society and sent two open letters (here and here) asking the Law Society to justify its decision, and it also submitted a formal complaint.
In April, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian spoke at a large public protest outside the Law Society’s offices in Chancery Lane, London, alongside a number of human rights campaigners. Charlie Klendjian’s speech is here (audio) and here (PDF).
The LSS was also the first organisation to report that the Solicitors Regulation Authority had endorsed the Law Society’s practice note. (The SRA is the profession’s regulatory body, whereas the Law Society is the representative body and often referred to as a trade union.)
The LSS challenged the SRA’s decision to endorse the Law Society’s practice note on the basis the SRA is a public authority for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. Shortly afterwards the SRA confirmed in writing to the LSS its decision to withdraw that endorsement “given the concerns that have been raised”. This put pressure on the Law Society to withdraw the sharia guidance.
In August, the LSS and representatives from the National Secular Society had a frank meeting with the Law Society’s then-Chief Executive Des Hudson and the head of its equality and diversity committee (and former President of the Law Society) Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, at the end of which the Law Society said it would think carefully about whether to retain the practice note.
On 24 November 2014 the Law Society announced its decision to withdraw the practice note.
You can see a full chronology of this campaign’s key events and media coverage on this page of the LSS website.
Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:
“Withdrawal of this guidance was the only possible way for the Law Society to retain the confidence of the profession and the public. We welcome the decision.
“We are particularly pleased that the Law Society has acknowledged the criticism and apologised.
“We are also pleased that there are no plans to amend or replace the practice note. If the Law Society had decided to reissue ostensibly “benign” or “non-discriminatory” sharia guidance it is highly likely we would have challenged that too, because it is not the Law Society’s business to issue Islamic theological guidance to its members any more than it is their business to issue any other form of theological guidance.
“In this jurisdiction sharia has the status of mere theology. Long may that continue. Sharia also has a truly dreadful human rights record, and the highest court in our land, the then House of Lords, has already held that sharia breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore by issuing any sharia guidance at all the Law Society would still be legitimising and endorsing sharia more generally. Arguably, “benign” sharia guidance would be even more harmful than the discriminatory guidance we have seen because it would be highly deceptive: it is an observable fact that sharia is not benign. It is not the Law Society’s business to reform sharia or to peddle sharia.
“I am very proud that the LSS was the first organisation to raise the alarm about this practice note, by way of LSS member Sadikur Rahman’s blog post of 18 March 2014, five days after the Law Society had issued its guidance. Events and media coverage snowballed from there at some pace.
“But we shall keep sentiments of victory to a minimum because we shouldn’t be celebrating the withdrawal of theological guidance, let alone fundamentally discriminatory theological guidance, issued in a liberal democracy by a key secular institution such as the Law Society. We shouldn’t be celebrating battles or asserting basic principles that – so far as we thought – had been satisfactorily settled some time ago.
“Challenging well-established and powerful institutions like the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, never mind so publicly and never mind on a subject such as sharia, has been a hugely daunting task for a tiny organisation such as the LSS which relies purely on the goodwill and helpful assistance of its volunteer members.
“I would like to warmly thank all my LSS colleagues who have contributed in any way to this campaign, publicly or behind the scenes. I would also like to thank the many other campaigners and also supporters who have played their part, and indeed all the journalists who have raised the profile of this crucial campaign.
“Given that the LSS has been the only group of lawyers to challenge this sharia guidance publicly, and for all we know at all, we hope this campaign will alert the legal profession to the ever-present threat of unwelcome religious influences on our legal system, and especially sharia. We hope the legal profession will recognise the importance of maintaining a secular legal system no matter what.
“We see the horrific consequences of fusing Islam with law or power on an almost daily basis now, domestically and internationally. It is vital that the legal profession in this country takes a principled stance against sharia and realises that our legal system is worthy of defending against sharia. We should have immense pride in our wonderful legal system and we should be incredibly protective towards it.
“We reiterate that we welcome the Law Society’s decision to withdraw this guidance, and we are delighted that good sense has finally prevailed. We are also happy to state publicly that the LSS would welcome any opportunity to be involved in future discussions with the Law Society or the SRA concerning the appropriate approach of the profession to Islam or any other religion.”
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