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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Government ditches inquiry into sharia councils in Britain

A Ministry of Justice inquiry into the operation of sharia councils in Britain has been abandoned because the people who operate the “courts” are unwilling to co-operate.

The number of sharia courts in the UK is unknown, although an estimate of 85 made by the Civitas think-tank in 2009 is widely accepted.

The number of sharia courts here is unknown, although an estimate of 85 made by the Civitas think-tank in 2009 is widely accepted. The failure of the Government’s investigation was disclosed to MPs by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly.

He told Tory backbencher Kris Hopkins that before last year’s general election his department acted to “commission an exploratory study of Sharia councils in England with respect to family law”.

Mr Djanogly said: ‘This identified a number of challenges to undertaking robust research in this area. The study was therefore limited and adds little to the evidence base. The findings cannot be regarded as a representative assessment of the operation of Sharia councils. Following expert peer review of the draft report, the Ministry of Justice decided not to publish the findings.’

A further statement to the press made it clear the ‘challenges’ researchers experienced boiled down to the Sharia courts failing to co-operate.

The Ministry of Justice said: “The report was essentially an exploratory study which identified a number of challenges to undertaking more robust research. The challenges to undertaking more robust research were that the councils are generally run on a volunteer basis, were short staffed and very busy, so there were practical difficulties in speaking with respondents. There was also reluctance to discuss the private work of the councils and respondents were wary of the stereotypical ways in which their organisations were represented in the media.”

Sharia law is also under scrutiny in the Lords, where the independent peer Baroness Cox has tabled a Bill seeking to make it a crime for anyone to take over the rights of the state’s criminal or family courts. TheNational Secular Societyhas spoken from the platform at various key meetings in Parliament in connection with the launch of the Bill.

Published Fri, 05 Aug 2011