The Law Society of England and Wales has issued guidance to solicitors on incorporating Islamic law into the British legal system for the first time, which will allow them to draw up “Sharia-compliant” wills.
In a report that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, the president of the Law Society said that the document, which would be recognised in court, would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic Principles in the British legal systems.
However, some lawyers have described the recommendations as “astonishing” and campaigners have warned that the move marks a step towards a “parallel legal system” for the country’s Muslims.
Since the announcement, the Law Society has been accused of giving its stamp of approval to discriminatory practices, which deny women an equal share and exclude “illegitimate” children or unbelievers, but the society denied promoting Sharia and insisted that it was simply responding to demand.
The move has been criticised vociferously by Baroness Cox, a cross-bench peer who leads a campaign to protect women from religiously-sanctioned discrimination, who said that the development was “deeply disturbing” and “would make the suffragettes turn in their graves”.
According to the report, inheritances in Islamic custom are determined by a list of heirs through ties of kinship rather than named individuals, as is the custom in the UK.
Although Sharia principles are not currently recognised by British courts a system of such courts has grown across the country to help mediate in disputes between Muslim families.
The new guidance will allow people the freedom to choose a will to reflect their own religious beliefs but will no doubt spark a wider debate around the implications for gender equality. In fact, so alarmed are some campaigners by the move that there have been calls for an enquiry into the scale of Sharia law in the UK.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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