The Times published this article today on their website and it has caused a massive pro-BNP discussion on a forum which I am a member of. It is really quite infuriating as everyone seems to have lost all reason and are paying no attention whatsoever to those of us on the forum (it’s a student on) who happen to undertake the study of Law when we explain the situation of it. So, I’ve decided that I am going to explain it here (just in case anyone else has gotten the wring idea).
Sharia Law conjures up many nasty images, and quite rightly so. The criminal aspects to Sharia law are abhorrent with thieves having their limbs amputated, gay people being executed and so on. However, this is not only what Sharia Law is about.
Sharia Law is a description of the set of principles Muslims are meant to live by, including aspects worship, penal law, and personal law. Sharia is everywhere a group of Muslims are, and it’s practised in Britain today too in the form of Muslim ‘councils’. But these councils don’t obviously sentence any Muslim, they can’t practice penal law, in fact these councils primarily use are to handle divorces under Islamic law.
Nothing has really changed. The tribunals that this article is referring to are still not allowed to practice penal (or criminal) law. They are using a widely used method of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) called arbitration. Companies and private individuals in the UK have been resolving disputes through Arbitration and other methods of ADR for quite some time. There are many advantages to using Arbitration such as it being cheaper and quicker than going to litigation through the civil courts.
What has changed is that the awards from these tribunals can now be enforced by the civil courts, like awards from arbitration have always been.
The main difference is that these Sharia tribunals are slightly more organised than the arbitration we are used to. This doesn’t mean that it is fundamentally different, it just means that the Muslim community have been motivated to organise their ADR in this way.
We are not, as a result of this, going to see Muslim Police running around Britain, arresting Muslim people for crimes and then dispensing the penal justice Sharia Law has come to be associated with. This is outside of the jurisdiction of ADR.