16:05 GMT15 January 2021
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    The UK Home Office is to investigate Sharia courts and councils after a government counter-extremism unit claimed it left Muslim women more vulnerable to abuse from violent partners.

    The majority of cases brought before Sharia councils in the UK relate to family issues, including divorce and relationship mediation. A Sharia council can grant divorces — but under Islamic law — it remains almost impossible for women to seek a divorce.

    Sharia rules grant custody to the father regardless of the facts of the case. Under British law, custody is granted based on the best interests of the child.

    The existence of Sharia courts, or councils, has been met with controversy in the UK due to the wide-ranging interpretations of Sharia that are associated with countries and regimes operating harsh penalties for acts of adultery and the prohibition of divorce.

    Until recently, Sharia law was not recognized as a valid rule of law in the UK. However, the Arbitration Act 1996 has allowed it some legitimacy, by officially recognizing its principles.

    ​Under the Arbitration Act 1996, Sharia law is now deemed a valid form for arbitration for Muslim civil cases in the UK. Yet Sharia law does not offer the same levels of civil rights protection as UK law. This disproportionately affects Muslim women suffering domestic violence and marriage breakdowns.  

    Campaigners are concerned women are disadvantaged in Sharia mediation cases, especially if they are seeking a divorce on grounds of physical and mental abuse. In December, 150 women's rights organization called on the British government to ban councils and courts attempting to uphold Islamic law.

    According to the UK government's counter-extremism strategy, women involved in the Sharia law system were unaware of their rights to leave violent partners under British law and instead were forced to attend mediation sessions.

    In response, the Home Office has admitted that it has "inadequate understanding" of the issues involved in Sharia law. 

    "I am very aware that there is concern about how Sharia courts are operating in some circumstances in the UK. That is why we will be doing a review," Theresa May told the Home Affairs Select Committee.

    ​The Home Secretary has ordered an independent inquiry into Sharia courts at the beginning of 2016 to tackle concerns that they operate a parallel justice system that discriminates against women in the UK.

    The home secretary told MPs that there should be just one rule of law in the UK, set by parliament. A review by the home office states: "We will never countenance allowing an alternative, informal system, informed by religious principles, to operate in competition with it."

    ​The University of Reading has identified 30 operational Sharia councils attached to a mosque in the UK.


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    legal case, extremism, court, mediation, abuse, women's rights, investigation, review, law, Islam, council, Sharia law, UK Home Office, Theresa May, United Kingdom
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