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UK govt-appointed review panel wants Sharia marriages registered under law

The 18-month review also called for Sharia councils to be regulated by the UK government .

world Updated: Feb 02, 2018 18:44 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India, London
Islam,Marriage,Sharia law
Under the current UK Marriage Act, there is no legal requirement for a Sharia marriage to be registered, which restricts divorce and other disputes in such cases to being resolved only in Sharia courts.(Reuters)

Islamic marriages under Sharia law should be followed by civil ceremonies to make them legal under British law, a new UK government commissioned review into Sharia councils operating in the country has said.

The report, by Professor Mona Siddiqui, suggested a firmer enforcement of the requirement for registering Islamic marriages to give women legal protection in cases of divorce.

Under the current UK Marriage Act, there is no legal requirement for a Sharia marriage to be registered, which restricts divorce and other disputes in such cases to being resolved only in Sharia courts.

As a “significant number” of Muslim couples do not register their marriages under civil law, “some Muslim women have no option of obtaining a civil divorce”, the report notes.

“An impact of changing the marriage laws to ensure registration of Muslim marriages would be to prohibit informal polygamy through multiple Islamic marriages,” it adds.

Findings presented to Parliament

Siddiqui presented her team’s findings to Parliament on Thursday and the recommendations will now be looked into for implementation by the UK Home Office.

The 18-month review also called for Sharia councils to be regulated by the UK government and warned against banning the Islamic religious bodies as it could force them “underground”. But the Home Office has dismissed the notion of regulating the councils, which would effectively legitimise them under British law.

“We will not be taking forward the review’s recommendation to regulate Sharia councils. 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,” the Home Office said in a statement.

However, it said that the government would carefully consider the review’s other recommendations.

Sharia councils under scanner

Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned the review of Sharia councils in the UK when she was home secretary back in May 2016 in a bid to understand and act on concerns that women are being unfairly treated by so-called courts, which do not operate under British law.

The review focused on whether and to what extent the application of Sharia law by Sharia councils may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales.

Estimates of the number of Sharia councils in England and Wales range from 30 to 85, the report said, adding that it had found no evidence of their existence in Scotland.

The term Sharia is defined as an all-encompassing one, which includes not only law in the Western sense of the word, but religious observances such as fasting and prayer, ritual practices such as halal slaughter, and worship in general.

“During the course of the review, it soon emerged that religion, culture and gender relations are inextricably intertwined, especially when it comes to family matters and personal law,” Siddiqui said in her foreword to the report.

She was aided in her review by a panel of experts, including a retired High Court judge and leading barristers, who were advised by two leading imams. Their remit involved investigating the treatment of women in cases of divorce, domestic violence and child custody.

First Published: Feb 02, 2018 18:44 IST