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One Law For All No More?

BBC NEWS | Magazine | The end of one law for all?

Ethnic and religious courts are gaining ground in the UK. Will this lead to different justice for different people?

Aydarus Yusuf has lived in the UK for the past 15 years, but he feels more bound by the traditional law of his country of birth - Somalia - than he does by the law of England and Wales.

"Us Somalis, wherever we are in the world, we have our own law. It's not Islamic, it's not religious - it's just a cultural thing."

The 29-year-old youth worker wants to ensure that other members of his community remain subject to the law of their ancestors too - he helps convene an unofficial Somali court, or "gar", in south-east London.

Aydarus is not alone in this desire. A number of parallel legal universes have been quietly evolving among minority communities. As well as Somali customary law, Islamic and Jewish laws are being applied and enforced in parts of the UK.

Islamic and Jewish law remains confined to civil matters. But the BBC's Law in Action programme has learned that the Somali court hears criminal cases too.....

So how did this court come about? Some academic lawyers see these alternative legal systems as an inevitable - and welcome - consequence of multiculturalism....

The (Jewish) Beth Din is the most formally entrenched of these minority courts. The UK's main Beth Din is based in Finchley, north London.

It oversees a wide range of cases including divorce settlements, contractual rows between traders and tenancy disputes.

The court cannot force anyone to come within its jurisdiction. But once someone agrees to settle a dispute in the Beth Din, he or she is bound in English law to abide by the court's decision.

This is because under English law people may devise their own way to settle a dispute before an agreed third party.

Amongst the UK's Muslims there are sharply contrasting views about Sharia or Islamic law in the UK. Sharia is the historic legal foundations of the Islamic world - like English law, it has developed over centuries but is based on simple principles.

In an ICM survey of 500 British Muslims carried out in February 2006, 40% of respondents said they would support the introduction of Sharia in predominantly Muslim areas of Britain.

The UK's most prominent Muslim organisation, the Muslim Council of Britain, opposes the idea, saying it will not support a dual legal system. ....

Comments

Tell me this is rubbish.

"The (Jewish) Beth Din is the most formally entrenched of these minority courts. The UK's main Beth Din is based in Finchley, north London.

It oversees a wide range of cases including divorce settlements, contractual rows between traders and tenancy disputes."

Even if this "court" makes a "ruling", surely it cannot overrule English law?

If I'm married in English law, then surely I cannot go to this court and get a divorce?

Of course if I'm married both in the Jewish tradition and English Law then this court can give a divorce regarding the Jewish part of it, but legally I'm still married.

Similarly in contract or tennancies, I don't believe this "court" can somehow ouster English Law no matter what the parties agree to. Of course I can agree to them determining a dispute, but if I don't like the determination, or if they go against English Law, then there can't be anything to stop me going to a real court to obtain a proper judgement. Can there?

I think the BBC is spinning the law to suit its own ends; they should be careful though, because people like me might want a court and then you might see some real justice.


Really the Beth Din or other such courts are arbitrations to which the parties submit voluntarily. The real courts will enforce their judgements, just as they would enforce other arbitration awards in civil and commercial disputes - not on family matters so much (I would assume) and certainly not on criminal matters. It's all a form of "alternative dispute resolution" and very sensible too.

There is no way that a Sharia court could sentence someone to amputation or other Islamic punishment though. There is no way to oust criminal jurisdiction. A settlement of a family matter might be enforced as just that - an agreed settlement. If it conflicted with English Law principles, however, it could be appealed/overturned. Sharia courts could do everything Beth Din and other religious courts do, and no more. They are not to be seen - in that respect - as a threat.

The worry about Sharia courts is that, with the implied authority of Allah behind them, those who submit to their judgements may not even consider going to infidel courts. It's easy to imagine isolated women submitting to divorce settlements much worse than the regular courts would award for example - from ignorance not legal necessity.

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