Baroness Cox finds the injustice to Muslim women and the discriminatory judgments being handed down by Sharia Courts to be disconcerting. In addition, many British judges have begun questioning whether Sharia rulings comply with the UK’s obligations to ensure gender equality under the Human Rights Act.
Accordingly, Baroness Cox’s bill, titled “The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill,” if passed into law, makes it clear that sex discrimination laws apply to arbitration tribunals as well as civil courts. It would prohibit unequal treatment of testimony, uneven-handedness of property, inheritance distribution, and financial rulings. It would also make it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail to falsely assert jurisdiction over family and criminal matters. Finally, the bill mandates that in unregistered marriages, public authorities must inform the parties that they are required to register their marriages in order to secure legal rights.
In other words, the bill requires Sharia Courts to acknowledge the priority of British law over Sharia law when the two conflict, and to preserve the British values of human rights and equality for women.
The bill does not mention Islam or Sharia by name. However, both the Baroness’ comments, as well as the Explanatory Note attached to the bill, make it clear that the legislation was prompted by concerns of the inequality executed in Sharia Courts and the fact that Sharia Courts have regularly, gradually, and illegally expanded their jurisdiction.
Various secular, Christian and Iranian-Kurdish women’s rights groups support the Baroness’ bill.
It comes on the foot-heels of the Home Secretary’s admission that Britain’s anti-terrorism program failed to recognize the extent of radical Islamist ideology and its influence in Britain, and an acknowledgment of Britain’s continuing problems of lack of integration and assimilation by the Islamic community. It is therefore no surprise that some Muslims are complaining about this legislation.
Turning a blind eye to the lack of consent, their ignorance of the law, the cries of suffering women, and the failure of Sharia Courts to inform Muslim women of their rights, Khurshid Drabu, constitutional adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain argued, “[B]ills of this kind don’t help anybody.” He accused lawmakers of failing to understand the “freedom” that Britain ensures whereby Muslim women should be permitted to submit to Sharia rulings.
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