Sharia Law and its relevance in the UK legal market

12 Sep 2014

Following the Law Society’s controversial practice note on how to implement Sharia Law into drafting wills and solving trust and estate disputes, we wonder whether this argument will be the first of many given the increasing religious diversity within the UK.

The Core of the Argument

The LSS (Lawyers’ Secular Society) argue that for the Law Society to encourage solicitors to educate themselves on how the muslim religion can be incorporated into the law, encourages certain aspects of the muslim religion that contradict the equality laws that form the building blocks of the English Legal system.

The Law Society argue that in a diverse society, solicitors who want to be educated on Sharia Law in order to satisfy their clients wishes have the right to be able to provide that service.

The Law Society Argument

On first release, Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society, simply stated that the practice note was a tool to guide solicitors who had clients for whom Sharia succession rules may be relevant.

We live in a society with a variety of cultural, spiritual and religious beliefs, so the Law Society argue they are trying to help English and Welsh solicitors meet the demands of their diverse client base.

After the controversy erupted, the Law Society president revealed that it’s practice note was a response to requests from members for guidance.

The “astonishing spread” of sharia law was first reported by the Daily Mail in 2009.

mc-groupDespite the warning about the rate of change that was happening in the legal system, the number of sharia courts haven’t actually changed that much, with a 2014 report still describing the figure of sharia courts as “no fewer than 85,” the same figure it gave in 2009. These courts are mainly located in Islamic communities.

Nevertheless, the demand that the Law Society described appeared to be mirrored in the fact that the sharia law training course, that took place on the 24th of June, sold out. The course offered training in how to include sharia practices in the disciplines of wills and inheritance, family and children and corporate and commercial law. The Law Society claimed that by holding the training course it was not classifying sharia law as a legal discipline, but that it’s purpose was to ‘further develop the competence and performance of solicitors across a range of topics’.

The Law Society also argued that it was a persons right “to organise their own affairs as they see fit, subject to any restrictions imposed by the law” and that “it is appropriate that the Society should provide information on the law at any point in time so that solicitors can advise their clients accurately… This is not the same as promoting the principles themselves.”

One of the benefits of English law is that testamentary freedom allows a person free choice of beneficiaries, whether it be children or charities that are more highly favoured, or in this case according to the precepts of Islam. The economist has predicted that drawing up wills in accordance with Islamic principles is likely to become a more common request in the future, however they seem to take the view that it should not be the solicitor who provides the advice on what is and is not Islamic.

Against the argument according the LSS

The concern of the LSS is the threat that sharia law introduces to the notion of equality before the law. According to Sharia principles, male heirs receive double the amount than female heirs, non-Muslims will not inherit, only Muslim marriages are acknowledged and illegitimate and adopted children can not be sharia heirs. The LCC argue that by issuing the practice note, the Law Society are legitimising and normalising discriminatory provisions of sharia law. They are especially worried about the policies referring to children whereby the dignity and legal rights of children are undermined.

The LCC say that the Law Society training course encouraged the perception that sharia law was becoming a legal discipline as the course qualified for CPD.

The LCC say sharia law is just a theology and the Law Society should not be giving it the credibility of a legal principle. Baroness Cox of the house of Lords and CEO of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, added that Muslim women have spoken up and are angry that Britain are endorsing the very law they came here to escape.

Members of the LCC and other human rights organisations protested and called for ‘one secular law for all.’ The protesters also described their worry of sharia law expanding into other areas, not just the wills and succession areas. For instance sharia divorce laws are extremely discriminatory towards women, as women are not only charged more but any domestic violence is ignored.

Conservative MP Robert Buckland has aired his views that “there is one law in this country, the law of England and Wales… We don’t have room for other legal systems and everybody who lives in our country should abide by our law… The Law Society has a wider duty to uphold our legal system.” He also agreed that by teaching sharia laws they are essentially faith teaching which is not their place.

The LSS has persuaded the SRA to remove reference to the Law Society’s practice note from it’s guidance on will drafting. As a public authority the SRA must conform with the Equality Act 2010 and referring to the sharia law practice note in it’s guidance was considered by many to be in conflict with the equality laws of this country.

The Outcome

Both sides of the argument hold strong views.

We have not seen the last of this argument.

It is also likely that despite the protests of organisations such as the LSS, people will bypass the idea of secular law in order to settle their matters according to Islam if they wish to do so.

The Law Society are sticking by their original practice note but multiple sources have called for solicitors to ignore the demand for religious expertise and stick to what they know. Leave the theology to the priests and the imams and if a client demands religious practice, direct them to the correct professionals who can advise them.

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References

1. The Law Society. 13/03/2014. Law Society publishes practice note on Sharia wills and inheritance rules. The Law Society website. http://ow.ly/B5P47

2. The Lawyer Secular Society. 23/03/2014. LSS condemns Law Society’s practice note on “Sharia compliant” wills. The LSS website http://ow.ly/B5Put

3. Michael Cross. 24/03/2014. Society defends sharia wills practice note. The Law Gazette website. http://ow.ly/B5Q65

4. Christopher Hope (senior political respondent). 26/04/2014. High street lawyers to get formal training in Islamic Sharia law. http://ow.ly/B5Rei

5. Juliet Spare. 29/04/2014. Protestors picket Law Society over Sharia guidance. Voice of Russia UK website. http://ow.ly/B5RTX

6. Christopher Hope. 10/05/2014. Law Society risks ‘undermining’ rule of law by promoting sharia, Chris Grayling warns. The Telegraph website. http://ow.ly/BenJz

7. The Lawyer Secular Society. 12/05/2014. Sharia wills practice note: Law Society refuses to withdraw guidance. The LSS website. http://ow.ly/Beodw

8. The Lawyer Secular Society. 05/06/2014. Solicitors Regulation Authority endorses Law Society’s sharia wills guidance. The LSS website. http://ow.ly/BeoxZ

9. The Lawyer Secular Society. 11/07/2014. Good news: Solicitors Regulation Authority withdraws sharia endorsement. The LSS website. http://ow.ly/BeoMx

10. Neil Rose. 16/07/2014. SRA ducks out of row over Law Society advice on Shariah-compliant wills. Legal Futures website. http://ow.ly/Bep2K

11. Sharia Watch. 19/07/2014. The Law Society and Sharia – Exactly what happened? Sharia Watch website. http://ow.ly/BepkN

12. B.C. 01/08/2014. Turning your lawyer into an imam. The economist website. http://ow.ly/BepXz

13. Nesrine Malik. 12/05/2014. The random Muslim scare story generator: separating fact from fiction. The Guardian website. http://ow.ly/BextU