Blow struck against UK ‘sharia’ wills
ON March 13 this year 2014, the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority (SRA) issued a practice note for UK solicitors on drafting “Sharia compliant” wills.
The note, which was drafted with reference to conservative if not fundamentalist Muslim “experts” but not minority women’s organisations, said:
… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs…The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir… Non-Muslims may not inherit at all…a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…
But the threat of legal action on gender equality grounds forced the SRA to dump the note, much to the delight of Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and One Law for All which this week welcomed the move.
In a joint statement the two groups said:
The decision clearly demonstrates that the SRA considers it inappropriate to continue to endorse the note.
This appalling institutional endorsement of direct gender and other forms of discrimination has been the subject of threatened legal action against the Law Society itself. We have demanded that the Law Society withdraw its guidance but it has resolutely refused to do so.
In an extraordinary show of defiance, in a letter dated 4 June 1014, the Law Society stated that it had no intention of withdrawing the practice note and that ‘no equality and diversity implications’ arose from the note.
Since receiving the SRA’s decision we have now written to the Law Society again demanding a reconsideration of their position. We are also taking further legal advice on the question of whether solicitors acting on the practice note might be themselves acting unlawfully.
Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors acting on the groups’ behalf said:
I am surprised that the Law Society considers that it did not have to consult with any women’s organisations or organisations working with Muslim women, despite the fact that there are significant disputes surrounding Sharia succession rules and a wide range of interpretations as to how they should apply. The Law Society should reconsider its position and withdraw the practice note now that the SRA has agreed to remove its own reference to it.
Pragna Patel of SBS said:
It beggars belief that the Law Society can see no wrong in issuing such blatantly discriminatory and offensive guidance. It shows a racist and callous disregard for minority women’s struggles for equality and Justice in the face of encroaching illiberal religious power.
The Law Society should be encouraging and legitimising an equality and human rights and not Sharia compliant legal culture. We urge the Law Society to remove its practice note which is contributing to the disturbing creation of a culture of ‘Sharia compliant’ law and policy in the UK.
Maryam Namazie from One Law for All said:
There is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere. Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a dogmatic and regressive philosophy and a warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law. The Law Society must immediately withdraw its shameful guidance.
The Lawyers’ Secular Society has also welcomed the development. Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:
Clearly the SRA has seen the error of its ways and we welcome its decision to withdraw its endorsement of the Law Society’s practice note. This sends an important message to the public, to the legal profession and indeed to the rest of the world.
Not only was the SRA’s decision to endorse the sharia practice note troubling, but so too was the method in which it did so. There was no accompanying press release and the endorsement came in the very final sentence of lengthy general guidance on the drafting and preparation of wills.
Our attention now turns once again to the Law Society and we very much hope that the SRA’s decision will lead to a serious rethink of policy at Chancery Lane. It is confusing to the public and the legal profession for two closely-related and key institutions within our legal system to have such different views on a matter of such importance to human rights generally, and female equality more specifically.
The Telegraph front page report in March of Islamic law and wills was reproduced by Islamophobiawatch under the headline: “More sharia hysteria from the Torygraph”.
Hat tip: Adam Tjaavk