Today in the House of Lords, Baroness Cox (Crossbench) asked Her Majesty’s Government “what progress they have made in implementing the recommendations of the independent review into the application of sharia law in England and Wales published in February 2018 (Cm 9560), in order to protect Muslim women, and what assessment they have made of Resolution 2253 (2019) by the Council of Europe that all Islamic marriages should also be registered as civil marriages.”
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con) replied that further work on the issues raised had begun in the spring, as announced in the Integrated Communities Action Plan:
“This work will explore reform possibilities in relation to the issue that some people may marry in a way that does not create a legally recognised marriage. This exploration will be conducted independently of the wider Law Commission review of marriage ceremony law.”
In reply to Bs Cox’s supplementary question – in essence, about her private Member’s bill, which would require all religious marriages to be registered – the Advocate-General replied that he could not accept that the proposed way forward set out by Bs Cox in her bill was appropriate:
“Her proposals would effectively deregulate marriage ceremony law and undermine the safeguards in it, including those relating to sham and forced marriages … It is perfectly possible to perform a lawful marriage in England and Wales under sharia law provided that the relevant mosque has been identified and registered by the registrars as a place for the performance of that ceremony, and a person has been identified by the registrars as suitable to be present for that ceremony. The law of England and Wales has then to be adhered to. Sharia law is not the law of England and Wales; it has no standing. Our national marriage law prevails in these matters. I reiterate: we understand and appreciate that there is a social issue here, because many are not aware of the true position of our law in respect of marriage. Indeed, many are not prepared to adhere to that in circumstances where one or other party may be ignorant of their true position and its consequences.”
“Some of what has been said by the Council of Europe in its Resolution 2253 does not reflect the true position of marriage law in England and Wales. In particular, the reference to civilly registering a marriage is inept. It does not reflect the true position of our law in England and Wales. Civil registration per se is not a route to a lawful marriage … I do not take exception to the reference to religious law, or sharia, in a social context. There are parties who wish to adhere to that because of their religious beliefs, but they must understand that it is subject to the law of the land, and that sharia is not the law of the land and has no standing as such” [emphasis added].
Comment: In a guest post in January 2019, The Council of Europe and sharia: an unsatisfactory Resolution, Russell Sandberg discussed the Parliamentary Assembly’s Resolution and was distinctly unimpressed by it. Russell and I expanded on that post in Sandberg R & Cranmer F (2019). ‘The Council of Europe and Sharia: An Unsatisfactory Resolution?’ Ecclesiastical Law Journal, 21(2), 203-212.