House of Commons debate on sharia courts: summary

On 2 May, a Commons debate was held in Westminster Hall on sharia courts in the United Kingdom. Opening it, John Howell (Henley) (Con) noted that the Council of Europe had called on the United Kingdom:

  • to “ensure that sharia councils operate within the law, especially as it relates to the prohibition of discrimination against women, and respect all procedural rights”;
  • to review the Marriage Act 1949 to make it a legal requirement for Muslim couples to civilly register their marriage before or at the same time as their Islamic ceremony, as ”—the report claims—is already stipulated by law for Christian and Jewish marriages”;
  • to take appropriate enforcement measures to oblige the celebrant of any marriage, including Islamic marriages, to ensure that the marriage is also civilly registered before or at the same time as celebrating the religious marriage;
  • to ensure that vulnerable women are provided with safeguards against exploitation and informed about their right to seek redress before the UK courts;
  • to mount awareness-raising campaigns to encourage Muslim communities to acknowledge and respect women’s rights in civil law, especially in marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance; and
  • to “conduct further research on the ‘judicial’ practice of sharia councils and on the extent to which such councils are used voluntarily, particularly by women, many of whom would be subject to intense community pressure in this respect.”

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