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Home Office rejects call to regulate Sharia councils

2 February 2018

A call for a body to regulate Sharia councils, which deal with aspects of Islamic law including marriage and divorce, has been rejected by the Home Office.

The recommendation comes in a report commissioned two years ago by Theresa May when Home Secretary, following an independent review to examine whether Sharia law was being used in a way that was incompatible with the rule of law in the UK. The review was chaired by Professor Mona Siddiqui, a specialist in Islamic and inter-religious studies, supported by an expert legal panel.

It also calls for civil registration of Islamic marriages before or at the same time as the religious ceremony, to ensure women have "the full protection afforded to them in family law, and the right to a civil divorce". It finds that a "significant number" of Muslim couples do not register marriages under civil law, leaving women unprotected, and recommends changes to the Marriage Act for England & Wales. Muslim women's groups believe that Sharia councils sometimes put pressure on women to stay in abusive marriages and not use their rights under the civil law.

A majority of the panel support a proposal for a self-regulatory body, made up of Sharia council members and family law specialists, to issue and monitor a code of practice for councils. However the Home Office has confirmed it will not take this recommendation forward. In a statement it said: "Sharia law has no jurisdiction in the UK and we would not facilitate or endorse regulation, which could present councils as an alternative to UK laws."

It added that it would consider the rest of the review's findings and recommendations carefully.

Although the report states that to the best of its knowledge there are no Sharia councils in Scotland, the interaction of Islamic and civil law has been discussed in a Journal article by an Islamic solicitor in Glasgow.

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