The Church of Scotland last night welcomed the possibility of introducing sharia law courts in Scotland.
Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Church and Society Council, said sharia courts had been unfairly portrayed following the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments in February that it “seems unavoidable” that parts of Islamic sharia law would be adopted in the UK.
Yesterday, The Scotsman revealed the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, based in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, was holding secret talks with lawyers and community groups about setting up sharia courts north of the Border.
Mr Galloway said: “What is being brought to us is not some kind of parallel jurisdiction that replaces our legal system; rather it is a space, within a given community, for disputes to be resolved.”
But he added that sharia courts must meet three crucial standards — they must not preclude recourse to the courts, must not break fundamental tenets of the Human Rights Act and the rights of women must be respected.
A tall order. How does he propose to verify those standards are being enforced? And who would oversee the process?
Meanwhile, officials are insisting there are no plans for sharia in Scotland, but the extent to which sharia-based entities of any kind will be sanctioned remains unclear, even if their rulings do not carry the same legal weight as they do in England. “No plan for Islamic law in Scotland, say ministers,” from the Times Online, October 9:
Holyrood ministers have denied claims that there are plans to introduce Sharia in Scotland. The Scottish government said that Islamic law had “no jurisdiction” north of the Border, and rejected the prospect of a dual legal system.
The denials came after a report yesterday that the body behind five Sharia courts in England was hoping to establish similar centres in Scotland. The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) told The Scotsman that discussions were under way with lawyers and Muslim groups north of the Border. It is thought they intend to set up the courts in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Such a move would be highly controversial, as critics believe that Sharia discriminates against women. Baron McCluskey, one of Scotland’s most senior legal figures, said it would be “daft” for a democratic country to adopt Islamic law.
The MAT runs courts in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester and at their own head office in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The courts rule on civil cases such as divorce, domestic violence and financial disputes. Their decisions are enforceable through the county courts and the High Court.
The courts were invested with legal powers by the Arbitration Act 1996. Under the legislation, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only, they are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, as long as both parties involved agree to be directed by the court.
The Nationalists began their own version of the Act in June, when the Arbitration Bill Scotland was published to modernise and consolidate legislation, and set up a dispute resolution centre. The administration insisted yesterday that the Bill could not implement Sharia by the back door. A spokesman said that Sharia “has no jurisdiction in Scotland, nor is there any intention or plan to introduce it”.