The United Kingdom has rejected proposals to regulate so-called sharia councils in the UK, following the publishing of a 2 year review into the matter.
An independent review published on Thursday urged Home Secretary Amber Rudd to set up a regulatory body.
But the proposal was rejected by the Home Office, citing concerns it would legitimise Islamic law “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”, a Home Office spokesperson said.
Many Islamic marriages carried out in the UK, are religious only, and are never registered. Women who wish to obtain a divorce are forced to go to Sharia councils, often dominated by men and beyond scrutiny thus depriving subjects of the legal protections of civil marriage.
The report said that legislating to enforce such registration would ensure “a greater number of women will have the full protection afforded to them in family law and the right to a civil divorce, lessening the need to attend and simplifying the decision process of sharia councils”.
The report also recommended introducing legislation that would force civil marriages to be performed at the same time or before Islamic marriages, officially recognising them under British law.
The report also recommended awareness campaigns in order to inform of women’s rights in civil law, particularly in the areas of marriage and divorce.
The exact number of Sharia councils operating in the United Kingdom is unknown, but estimates range from 30 to 85.
Some claimed the government had rejected the proposals out of political expediency, leaving Muslim women unprotected. Journalist Sunny Hundal tweeted “Regulation of Sharia Councils would mean 'accepting’ their existence, which is not politically palatable to the far-right part of their base.”
“This leaves Muslim women in the current limbo: without protection or oversight.”
But Stephen Evans, the CEO of the National Secular Society praised the government’s rejection of the proposed regulation. "The Home Office is quite right to reject this proposal out of hand. Regulation of so-called sharia courts will only lend them legitimacy whilst doing nothing to ensure compatibility with anti-discrimination and human rights law.”
“It will take us further down the road towards a parallel legal system where the rights of British citizens from minority backgrounds are fundamentally undermined."