A committee of MPs will begin an inquiry into the role of Sharia courts this week.
On Tuesday, the first day of evidence gathering will be held by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in the Thatcher Room of Portcullis House. The MPs hope to gain a better understanding of how Sharia courts operate in relation to divorce and family disputes. They will also examine how these courts relate to the British legal system.
Several experts have agreed to give evidence to the Committee. These include Ephraim Shaista Gohir, Chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK; Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society; and Dr Ahmad Al Dubayan, Chairman of the UK Board of Sharia Councils.
Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Women and Equalities Minister Justine Greening said the issue of Sharia courts was “one of the utmost importance”. She added that the government was aware “that there are concerns about Sharia councils … and we take those concerns extremely seriously”.
Greening’s comments were a response to Conservative backbencher Philip Davies, who had urged support for a bill proposed in the House of Lords. This had been introduced by cross-bench peer Baroness Cox and, if adopted, would significantly limit the powers of Sharia courts. Davies said the government should “ensure that Muslim women enjoy the same protections under the law as everyone else does” rather than feeling “pressurised into having their cases determined by a Sharia council”.
Baroness Cox has “long campaigned … for Sharia councils to be abolished” the Tory MP for Shipley added, “largely because of the unfair way many women are treated by them”.
Last year, a Dutch legal scholar claimed the British Sharia courts intentionally made it difficult for wives to divorce their husbands and were keeping these women in “marital captivity”.