“Why don’t we just give up now, roll over, and become an Islamic state?” asked a despairing Daily Mail reader. Five months ago, the archbishop of Canterbury said Sharia law in Britain is “inevitable.” Could it get any worse? Yes, according to the Daily Mail. In a speech last week at the East London Muslim Centre, our top judge implied it was desirable:
The most senior judge in England yesterday gave his blessing to the use of Sharia law to resolve disputes among Muslims.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips said that Islamic legal principles could be employed to deal with family and marital arguments and to regulate finance.
Torn between buying a beer while I still could and saving for a burqa, I turned instead to the New English Review website, where my colleague Esmerelda Weatherwax refused to rush to judgment and declared her intention to do what journalists after a quick sound bite failed to do, that is read the full speech:
It is a 10-page speech and he touches on Sharia law briefly on page 8 going into page 9. The rest of his very sensible presentation has been ignored.
The speech was entitled “Equality Under the Law.”
Muslim men and Muslim women are entitled to be treated in exactly the same way as all other men and women in this country. And there is, of course, another side to this coin. Rights carry with them obligations, and those who come to live in this country and to benefit from the rights enjoyed by all who live here, also necessarily come under the same obligations that the law imposes on all who live here.
Those who, in this country, are in dispute as to their respective rights are free to subject that dispute to the mediation of a chosen person, or to agree that the dispute shall be resolved by a chosen arbitrator or arbitrators. There is no reason why principles of Sharia law, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. It must be recognized, however, that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of the mediation would be drawn from the laws of England and Wales. So far as aspects of matrimonial law are concerned, there is a limited precedent for English law to recognize aspects of religious laws, although when it comes to divorce this can only be effected in accordance with the civil law of this country.
So when Robert Spencer, writing at Human Events, asks, “If a Sharia court finds a man not guilty of adultery, would that judgment be enforced in a British court, perhaps denying his wife a divorce?” the answer is clearly no. An English court cannot deny a woman a divorce if the marriage has irretrievably broken down, this, rather than adultery, being grounds for divorce under English law.