LSS welcomes Home Secretary’s clampdown on sharia

The Lawyers’ Secular Society has welcomed comments by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, that the UK will no longer tolerate the behaviour of Islamist extremists who “reject our values”.

On Monday 23 March 2015 the Home Secretary gave a speech outlining various proposals which she is seeking to introduce after the General Election in May, including:

  • A review of supplementary schools, which are currently unregulated, to “protect children from extremists”
  • A “full review of citizenship law” to make sure successful applicants respect British values
  • HM Inspectorate of Constabulary reviewing how police forces have responded to “honour crimes”, female genital mutilation and forced marriage

The Home Secretary also announced plans for a review of sharia “courts” in England and Wales, clearly acknowledging that sharia is being used to discriminate against women. She said:

“Extremism is not something that can just be ignored. It cannot be wished away. It must be tackled head on. Because where extremism takes root the consequences are clear. Women’s rights are eroded. There is discrimination on the basis of race and sexuality. There is no longer equal access to the labour market, to the law, or to wider society. Communities become segregated and cut off from one another. Intolerance, hatred and bigotry become normalised. Trust is replaced by fear, reciprocity by envy, and solidarity by division.”

She also acknowledged in detail the specific types of harm that sharia causes to women:

“There are some areas where – like in the application of Shari’a law – we know enough to know we have a problem, but we do not yet know the full extent of the problem. For example, there is evidence of women being “divorced” under Shari’a law and left in penury, wives who are forced to return to abusive relationships because Shari’a councils say a husband has a right to “chastise”, and Shari’a councils giving the testimony of a woman only half the weight of the testimony of a man.”

The LSS opposes any faith-based arbitration or mediation which is not compatible with the fundamental principles of UK law, such as gender equality and equality of bargaining power, and it supports Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill which seeks to achieve that. The Bill also makes it a criminal offence for sharia councils to claim legal jurisdiction in the areas of criminal or family law.

The Home Secretary also added that it was obvious from the evidence that the most serious and widespread form of extremism we need to confront is Islamist extremism.”

Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:

“The LSS welcomes the Home Secretary’s comments, and her clear acknowledgement that Islamic extremism is the most serious form of extremism in the UK.

“There is no point deluding ourselves that all forms of extremism pose the same threat to our way of life – in terms of ideology, political power, global reach, or actual harm caused. A clear and unapologetic sense of priority is sorely needed, and it is important that the Government displays the integrity and the confidence to identify the priority.

“In particular we are very pleased to see that the Home Secretary has announced plans for a review of sharia “courts” in England and Wales. This wretched parallel legal system has been left to fester for far too long, by politicians of all stripes, and it is high time a blinding light was shone on to it.

“We have been disappointed before, though, such as when Baroness Warsi, who is no longer a member of the Government, expressed supposed outrage following a BBC Panorama programme about sharia councils. The Government subsequently did nothing. So whilst we welcome this announcement from the Home Secretary, we hope there will also be firm action in due course.

“At the very least, it would seem a complete no-brainer for the Government immediately to support Baroness Cox’s Bill.”

You can read the Home Secretary’s full speech here.

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