Welcome for Lord Chief Justice Remarks on Sharia Law
Friday 4th July 2008Lambeth Palace has welcomed the speech given yesterday by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Rt Hon Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, on 'Equality Before the Law'.
Speaking at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel, Lord Phillips used his address to highlight some of the popular misconceptions about Sharia and said that in cases where its principles did not come into conflict with the laws of England & Wales they could be followed without legal interference. He also alluded to the reaction to the February 2008 speech made by the Archbishop of Canterbury that covered similar themes.
His address was welcomed by a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury as 'a positive and constructive contribution to this important and ongoing debate.'
In his speech, the Lord Chief Justice said:
"In February this year I chaired a lecture given by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Royal Courts of Justice on the topic of Civil and Religious Law in England. It was a profound lecture and one not readily understood on a single listening. It was, I believe, not clearly understood by all, and certainly not by sections of the media which represented the Archbishop as suggesting the possibility that Muslims in this country might be governed by their own system of Sharia law. That is certainly not what he was suggesting. On the contrary he made it plain that there could not be some subsidiary Sharia jurisdiction which, I quote, "could have the power to deny access to rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights". Speaking more specifically of apostasy he said "In a society where freedom of religion is secured by law, it is obviously impossible for any group to claim that conversion to another faith is simply disallowed or to claim the right to inflict punishment on a convert".
A point that the Archbishop was making was that it was possible for individuals voluntarily to conduct their lives in accordance with Sharia principles without this being in conflict with the rights guaranteed by our law. To quote him again "the refusal of a religious believer to act upon the legal recognition of a right is not, given the plural character of society, a denial to anyone inside or outside the community of access to that right".
The Archbishop went on to suggest that it might be possible to contemplate, and again I quote, "a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters". He suggested by way of example "aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution".
It was not very radical to advocate embracing Sharia Law in the context of family disputes, for example, and our system already goes a long way towards accommodating the Archbishop's suggestion. It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by a law other than English law. Those who, in this country, are in dispute as to their respective rights are free to subject that dispute to the mediation of a chosen person, or to agree that the dispute shall be resolved by a chosen arbitrator or arbitrators. There is no reason why principles of Sharia Law, or any other religious code should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. It must be recognised, however, that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of the mediation would be drawn from the laws of England and Wales. So far as aspects of matrimonial law are concerned, there is a limited precedent for English law to recognise aspects of religious laws, although when it comes to divorce this can only be effected in accordance with the civil law of this country."
The Lord Chief Justice's full speech can be viewed on the Judicial website - click link on the right.