The Lawyers’ Secular Society has now received written confirmation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority confirming withdrawal of the reference in their recent wills guidance to the Law Society’s practice note on “sharia succession rules”. The letter, dated 15 July 2014, is here (PDF).
On 5 June 2014 the LSS wrote an open letter to the SRA, which is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales, asking it to explain its decision to endorse the Law Society’s sharia practice note of 13 March 2014. The SRA is a public authority for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and is bound by the public sector equality duty. The Law Society’s practice contains guidance which is fundamentally discriminatory towards women and non-Muslims.
On 11 July 2014 the SRA’s wills guidance was updated, with the reference to the Law Society’s practice note having been removed.
In its letter the SRA says that references to Law Society practice notes “are regularly attached to our guidance and are not an endorsement of the contents”. The letter goes on to say:
“However, given the concerns that have been raised in relation to the inclusion of the reference to the practice note, the reference has now been removed from the appendix to the SRA guidance note.”
The letter closes by saying:
“In removing the reference to the Law Society practice note, the SRA does not accept it has been in breach of any duty under the Equality Act 2010 and the decision to remove the reference should not be taken as any comment or inference as to the Law Society’s practice note.”
The Law Society’s practice note remains in place and the LSS continues to challenge it.
Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:
“It was important for the LSS to receive written confirmation from the regulator for solicitors in England and Wales that it was wrong to incorporate a reference to sharia succession rules in its wills guidance.
“It remains the view of the LSS that the SRA’s original reference to the sharia succession rules did constitute an endorsement. The SRA wording was: “If you are acting for clients for whom sharia succession rules may be relevant you will find the Law Society’s practice note on the subject helpful.” Clearly the views of the LSS and the SRA differ on whether this constitutes an endorsement, but it is now an academic point.
“Regardless of the SRA’s view on whether the reference breached the Equality Act 2010, the letter sends a strong message to public authorities that they should not be endorsing, or being seen to endorse, sharia law. The written confirmation of withdrawal sends a powerful and reassuring message to the legal profession and the public at large.
“The SRA has been careful not to make life uncomfortable for its colleagues at the Law Society, but the reality is that the SRA’s withdrawal of its endorsement increases quite considerably the pressure on the Law Society, and its isolation. The LSS can assure all those who are concerned about this practice note that it will continue to press vigorously for its removal by the Law Society.
“For the time being, though, we welcome the SRA’s withdrawal and we are pleased that good sense has prevailed.”
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