A ‘parallel’ system of justice based on Islamic law should face a test case under the Human Rights Act, a group campaigning against religious laws said this week.
The One Law for All Campaign called for a case to be initiated to determine whether Muslim arbitration tribunals and sharia councils are public authorities under the 1998 act. If found to be so, they would be prohibited from acting in any manner contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, according to the report Sharia Law in Britain.
The campaign group says the practice of sharia law falls short of accepted standards for the administration of justice.
Campaigners said the benign view that sharia justice in Britain deals only with mundane matters between consenting individuals is mistaken. ‘Sharia law is homophobic, sexist and anti-democratic,’ veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell alleged.
The report examines the operation of sharia councils, which provide mediation, and Muslim arbitration tribunals, whose findings are binding under the terms of the Arbitration Act 1996: ‘In sharia courts, there is neither control of the appointment of "judges" nor an independent mechanism for monitoring them. People often do not have access to legal advice and representation. The proceedings are not recorded, not are there any searchable legal judgments.’
The report also challenges the argument that sharia justice could free up the Courts Service and provide a cost-effective alternative to litigation. ‘Cuts in costs and expedited justice are likely to bring with them serious miscarriages of justice and human rights abuses,’ it says.
The campaign group calls for an amendment to the Arbitration Act to exclude religious arbitration, and for efforts to inform members of Muslim communities of their rights.