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Sharia law often used to settle disputes in UK

The law is being used as an alternative to English criminal law as migrants and citizens with roots in Islamic countries feel more bound by the traditional law.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 12:44 IST

The Islamic sharia law derived from the Koran is being used in parts of Britain as an alternative to English criminal law as migrants and citizens with roots in Islamic countries feel more bound by the traditional law.

In several instances, the sharia laws are given more respect than those of Britain even though it has no binding status in Britain.

Evidence of this has been produced in a BBC Radio 4 programme Law in Action.

Reports say that Aydarus Yusuf, 29, a youth worker from Somalia, recalled a stabbing case that was decided by an unofficial Somali "court" sitting in Woolwich, southeast London.

Yusuf said a group of Somali youths were arrested on suspicion of stabbing another Somali teenager.

The victim's family told the police it would be settled out of court and the suspects were released on bail.

A hearing was convened and elders ordered the assailants to compensate their victim.

"All their uncles and their fathers were there," said Yusuf. "So they all put something towards that and apologised for the wrongdoing."

A Scotland Yard spokesperson said it was common for the police not to proceed with assault cases if the victims decided not to press charges, but added that cases of domestic violence including rape might go to trial regardless of the victim's wishes.

Yusuf told the programme that he felt more bound by the traditional law of his birth than by the laws of his adopted country.

"Us Somalis, wherever we are in the world, we have our own law," he said. "It's not sharia, it's not religious - it's just a cultural thing."

Sharia's great strength was the effectiveness of its penalties, he said. Those who appeared before religious courts would avoid a repeat offence so as not to bring shame on their families, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Prakash Shah, a senior lecturer in law at Queen Mary University of London, said such tribunals "could be more effective than the formal legal system".

Faizul Aqtab Siddiqi, a barrister and principal of Hijaz College Islamic University, near Nuneaton, Warwick, said this type of court had advantages for Muslims.

"It operates on a low budget, very small timescales and the process and the laws of evidence are far more lenient and it's less awesome an environment than the English courts," he said.

Siddiqi predicted that there would be a formal network of Muslim courts within a decade.

First Published: Dec 01, 2006 12:44 IST