Law Society president Nicholas Fluck has attacked as ‘inaccurate and ill-informed’ press reports that the Society is promoting sharia law.
He was speaking after campaigners for secularism called for the withdrawal of a practice note advising solicitors to draw up wills in compliance with Islamic law.
Fluck said: ‘We live in a diverse multi-faith, multi-cultural society. The Law Society responded to requests from its members for guidance on how to help clients asking for wills that distribute their assets in accordance with sharia practice.
‘Our practice note focuses on how to do that, where it is allowed under English law.’
He said that the Law of England and Wales will give effect to wishes clearly expressed in a valid will in so far as those wishes are compliant with the law of England. ‘The issue is no more complicated than that.’
Charlie Klendjian, secretary of the Lawyers’ Secular Society, called for the note to be withdrawn.
‘By issuing this practice note the Law Society is legitimising and normalising – or at the very least being seen to legitimise and normalise – the distribution of assets in accordance with the discriminatory provisions of sharia law. This is a worrying precedent to set.’
However John Bunker, head of private client knowledge management at commercial and private client firm Thomas Eggar, said: 'As I see it, the Law Society is not advocating sharia law, or encouraging solicitors to act in a discriminatory way, but helping the profession understand how they can make wills that comply with this alternative religious law, if asked by a client to do so. It’s dangerous territory, especially with the different forms of sharia law, but the Law Society is trying to help make sense of the provisions.'
He said that under the principle of testamentary freedom if clients want to leave their estate in accordance with sharia they are free to do so, subject to the potential for any beneficiary to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Labour MP Barry Sheerman called for a joint investigation by the Commons Justice and Home Affairs Committees into how widespread the use of sharia law is in Britain.