No exception for sharia law

From the Law Society Gazette, 28 October 2013: LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian’s letter in response to Ahmad Thomson’s book review of Islam, Sharia and Alternative Dispute Resolution:

I see the Gazette is wading into the choppy waters of religion and the law (Book Review: Islam, Sharia and Alternative Dispute Resolution, 21 October).

The reviewer, Mr Thomson, says ‘English law and sharia law are two distinct jurisdictions’. Yes, ‘distinct’ is certainly one way of putting it. The distinction between English law and sharia law is hardly trivial: even in the context of alternative dispute resolution, rather than a penal code, the difference can mean eye-watering consequences for domestic abuse of women, for gender equality generally and for the rights of children. Worryingly, although Mr Thomson recognises these two jurisdictions are ‘distinct’, he doesn’t tell us which one ought to take precedence or indeed which one he prefers.

He goes on to talk of the two jurisdictions ‘enjoying a mutually positive interaction and reasonable accommodation’.

I beg to differ. There is nothing positive about a legal system such as sharia, which routinely and explicitly treats human beings who happen to be female as second-class citizens, and which does not give paramount importance to the interests of children in family law matters. Accommodation here is merely a polite word for appeasement.

One definition of a country is a set of people all subject to the same obligations and all enjoying the same rights. Accommodating sharia law makes a mockery of that noble principle. It sacrifices the priceless idea of legal equality on the high altar of ‘cultural sensitivity’, effectively sanctioning lower-grade legal status for those people who are considered different. This is the very antithesis of a good quality legal system.

English law should not — it must not — accommodate sharia law. Equality before the law has served humans very well and I see no reason whatsoever to depart from it. I would very much hope that other lawyers might agree with me on this.

Through the Lawyers’ Secular Society and my involvement with similar organisations such as the National Secular Society and One Law For All, I have met countless women who came to the UK precisely to escape sharia law, only to see it politely sanctioned here with chillingly neutral words such as ‘sensitivity’ and ‘accommodation’.

I would ask your readers to go back to basics. No, in fact I would beg them. I would ask your readers this: would you accept any encroachment, however small, that chipped away at equality before the law? If your answer is no, and I hope it is, then ask yourself this: why make an exception for sharia law?

(PDF here)


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