Victory! Law Society retreats over sharia

Victory! Law Society retreats over sharia

Insisting that sharia law ‘has a truly dreadful human rights record’ Charlie Klendjian of the Lawyers’ Secular Society this week welcomed news that the Law Society in the UK had withdrawn its formal practice note on ‘sharia succession rules’.

According to a statement issued by Klendjian, the Law Society has now deleted the page of its website that contained the sharia guidance.

The Law Society sent the LSS a letter saying:

We have reviewed our practice note on Sharia succession principles following your feedback, and that of our members and other stakeholders. Following this review, we have withdrawn the note and it will no longer be available through our website. We have no plans to amend or replace the note.

We are mindful of the criticism we received and we apologise.

The sharia guidance contained provisions, at section 3.6, which explicitly discriminated against women, non-Muslims, adopted children and “illegitimate” children:

• The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class.
• Non-Muslims may not inherit at all
• … illegitimate and adopted children are not sharia heirs

The LSS’s objections to the practice note have been as follows:

1. The Law Society had issued guidance on a subject outside of its remit (theology).

2. The Law Society had given sharia, which is not only theology but which also has a very poor human rights record, the credibility and respectability of a legal discipline within our jurisdiction.

3. The LSS had not in any way challenged the English law principle of testamentary freedom but the LSS strongly felt it was not appropriate for the Law Society to give explicit guidance on how to achieve discrimination. The Law Society would not and should not give guidance on, for example, how to achieve racist objectives in a will even though racist provisions would be lawful, and nor should it have given guidance on how to achieve sexist and religiously discriminatory objectives in a will.

4. Anything that undermines or competes with English law, or that is perceived as undermining or competing with English law, is damaging to the principle of equality before the law and the rule of law more generally.

5. The practice note was at odds with the Law Society’s own stated commitment to equality and diversity.

The LSS was the first organisation to raise the alarm about this guidance. The LSS strongly and publicly condemned the Law Society and sent two open letters asking the Law Society to justify its decision, and it also submitted a formal complaint.


In April, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian, above, spoke at a large public protest outside the Law Society’s offices in Chancery Lane, London, alongside a number of human rights campaigners.

In August, the LSS and representatives from the National Secular Society had a frank meeting with the Law Society’s then-Chief Executive Des Hudson and the head of its equality and diversity committee (and former President of the Law Society) Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, at the end of which the Law Society said it would think carefully about whether to retain the practice note.

On 24 November 2014 the Law Society announced its decision to withdraw the practice note.

Klendjian said:

Withdrawal of this guidance was the only possible way for the Law Society to retain the confidence of the profession and the public. We welcome the decision. We are particularly pleased that the Law Society has acknowledged the criticism and apologised.

We are also pleased that there are no plans to amend or replace the practice note. If the Law Society had decided to reissue ostensibly ‘benign’ or ‘non-discriminatory’ sharia guidance it is highly likely we would have challenged that too, because it is not the Law Society’s business to issue Islamic theological guidance to its members any more than it is their business to issue any other form of theological guidance.

In this jurisdiction sharia has the status of mere theology. Long may that continue. Sharia also has a truly dreadful human rights record, and the highest court in our land, the then House of Lords, has already held that sharia breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

Therefore by issuing any sharia guidance at all the Law Society would still be legitimising and endorsing sharia more generally. Arguably, ‘benign’ sharia guidance would be even more harmful than the discriminatory guidance we have seen because it would be highly deceptive: it is an observable fact that sharia is not benign. It is not the Law Society’s business to reform sharia or to peddle sharia.

He added:

We hope this campaign will alert the legal profession to the ever-present threat of unwelcome religious influences on our legal system, and especially sharia. We hope the legal profession will recognise the importance of maintaining a secular legal system no matter what.

We see the horrific consequences of fusing Islam with law or power on an almost daily basis now, domestically and internationally. It is vital that the legal profession in this country takes a principled stance against sharia and realises that our legal system is worthy of defending against sharia. We should have immense pride in our wonderful legal system and we should be incredibly protective towards it.

We reiterate that we welcome the Law Society’s decision to withdraw this guidance, and we are delighted that good sense has finally prevailed. We are also happy to state publicly that the LSS would welcome any opportunity to be involved in future discussions with the Law Society or the SRA concerning the appropriate approach of the profession to Islam or any other religion.

News of the backdown was also enthusiastically welcomed by a number of other organisations, including One Law for All and Southall Black Sisters.

According to this report, campaigners discovered that the Law Society had used the works of an extremist cleric, who has advocated flogging and stoning for “fornicators”, for their Practice Note.

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, said:

SBS welcomes the Law Society’s decision to withdraw the discriminatory guidance. We also acknowledge that it has publicly apologised for having produced the ill-advised guidance in the first place. Let this episode serve as a warning to other public bodies that may be contemplating instituting ‘Sharia compliant’ measures that flout equality and human rights law and values, which must be regarded as universal and non-negotiable.

We now look forward to working with the Law Society to address the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts which also prevent many abused and marginalised women from minority backgrounds from accessing justice.

Maryam Namazie, founder of One Law for All, commented:

The Law Society has finally succumbed to our pressure and withdrawn its guidance a week before women’s rights groups were to meet with them to step up our pressure against the discriminatory nature of their Sharia-compliant guidance. This is another huge victory for equality, one law for all and civil rights and yet another loss for the religious far-right. We congratulate all those who took part in this campaign. One law for all is not an empty slogan but must mean something particularly when it comes to the law.

Gita Sahgal, Director of the Centre for Secular Space, said:

This is a victory against the institutionalisation of religious law. Secular values protect the rule of law far better than the regulators do. There are many battles ahead to protect human rights and access to justice. We have a common interest in these struggles.

Chris Moos, one of the organisers of the campaign, concluded:

The Law Society has done the only sensible thing – withdraw the guidance for good and apologise for promoting the use of discriminatory practices in the first place. Hopefully, those who have defended the practice note will now realise that the only way public bodies and representative organisations can be sure to meet their equality duties is by adhering to the principle of secular neutrality in matters of belief.

Hat tip: Adam Tjaavk,

18 responses to “Victory! Law Society retreats over sharia”

  1. RussellW says:

    It’s good news that the Law Society is not promoting Sharia, however the law will still allow ‘Sharia compliant wills’.

  2. Broga says:

    I’m not reassured by the Law Society backing off although I am pleased by it. I suspect that in their fancy robes, the respect they receive, their bullshit social occasions at the various Temples they view realty with a worrying detachment from on high.

    The fact that they even entertained the idea of the infamous sharia law requires more than a retreat and an apology. They probably thought they were being rather advanced in their thinking. They need a fundamental reassessment of their principles and values.

    Of course, I am cynical and may have got this all wrong. If so, someone will put me right. In the meantime Charlie Klendjian of the Lawyers’ Secular Society deserves all our thanks.

  3. Paul Cook says:


    Yes you are wrong.

    This was guidance from the solicitors body not barristers – they work in the fours Inns, Lincoln’s Inn, Grays Inn and the Inner and Middle Temples. And wear wigs and gowns. Although this is being reduced and ‘modernised’. England & Wales has a separate legal profession. Solicitors ( like a doctor GP although some of
    Course specialise), Barristers (like specialised medical practitioners or consultants, specialised court advocates and document draftsmen).
    It can be argued it is a very good thing we have a separate legal profession – it is the envy of the free world. This is why London is a centre for international arbitration and litigation.

  4. barriejohn says:

    So, the Law Society are “racist” as well, are they? We’ve discussed all this before; if people want to draw up wills that are Shariah Compliant, or Kosher, or whatever else, then that’s their prerogative, but we know that members – especially female members – of religious or even ethnic groups may be under considerable pressure to accept judgments and decisions which seriously disadvantage them, and that is not acceptable. How you legislate for this without infringing people’s rights I have no idea, but I have personal experience of members of the Plymouth Brethren being denied legal redress by “kangaroo courts” and arbitrary decisions of the elders, and in one case, as I have mentioned before (don’t want to bore you all by repeating the details), this led to a suicide.

  5. Newspaniard says:

    One small step… Time to have a serious look at sharia courts and their judgements. The “One law for all” is a noble cause but I suspect our legal system is being undermined by muslim judges, muslim crown prosecutors and barristers who appear to apply sharia law by picking bits from English common law to prosecute/persecute people’s right to expressing an opinion, particularly one which would have been covered by blasphemy laws in the past. muslims are not a race, they are deluded people from all races therefore I am not a racist. Pick holes in that one, my loony left wing fellow commenters.

  6. Broga says:

    @Paul Cook: Thanks. As I am not a Christian believing an inerrant bible I am able to accept and learn from new facts. I enjoy being educated and certainly in need of that in some areas. Much obliged.

  7. barriejohn says:

    Newspaniard: I was tempted not to reply to your usual sniping, as I have told you before how tiresome I find it, but I was alluding to the fact that those of us who objected to “sharia compliant” law were at the time branded “racist” (by the usual suspects). Perhaps you should acquaint yourself with the facts in future before shouting your mouth off in your ongoing crusade against anyone whom you suspect of harbouring “left wing” views. And who are you to label anyone “loony” in any case?

  8. Newspaniard says:

    @barriejohn. Taking everything I write so seriously as usual. Perhaps it is YOU who should look to your laurels instead of other peoples’. I have every right to call anyone, anything I please especially those who express hard left wing, republican views as being “loony”. We don’t live under a Stalinist, or even Swedish, regime yet. Of course, that freedom applies to you too so, go ahead with the Right Wing Racist Bigot accusations. Oh, I see, you already did.

  9. Tom80 says:

    This interests me: Say a muslim goes to a Solicitor and instructs him to draw up a will and specifies what he wants in the will, then surely the solicitor would have to follow his clients instructions. If this happens to be in accordance with “Sharia Law” can the solicitor do much about it?

  10. andym says:

    Tom80. That’s not the issue. The issue was about formal guidance to solicitors for them to advise people how to draw up a sharia-compliant will. An individual can leave their wealth how they like

  11. Paul Cook says:

    Testamentary freedom is applicable to anyone old enough and with the mental capacity to make a will. One could argue believing in a non-existent law and a sky fairy is lack of mental capacity.
    Any such will would be subject to English law first and foremost.
    Not a system of religion.
    This then allows freedom for a testator to do what he/she wants with his/her own property upon death (wife and girl offspring not included in that statement-save children under the age of 16 who would need care by foster parents or guardians in the event the testator and or his spouse die at the same time and they both have made similar wills)( testator is the person making the will), but it would not be permissible to make a will based on sharia- that is not allowed as that is not English law.

    The system of English law of wills is very clear as to what needs to be done to give effect – sharia needs no such basis – sharia simply divides up both lives and property according to a stupid Stone Age system when men ruled over women who were property and only males inherited everything according to a strict % system. Females got little or much less- it does it need to be made in a document – it just happens. Freedom to gift or ‘move’ property about upon death. is a fundamental Legal principle not found in religious doctrine. Save the principle the church should get it all!

    The real problem in The UK is so many people do not make wills and of they die intestate the two richest people in the country get it all: Elizabeth who really needs the money to pay her tax bill and keep her homes running and of course homeopathy faith healer Charles as the Duke of Cornwall. Serious mistakes made by people in life benefit only these two – it’s a shocking fact.

  12. andym says:

    @ Paul Cook. Surely Bronze or Iron Age. You do a disservice to our Stone Age hunter-gatherer ancestors. In Africa , at least, they had some of the most gender egalitarian societies in our history.

  13. Paul Cook says:

    Yes my apologies!
    The crude reference to Neolithic and Palaeolithic by those words is meant for effect!
    Some of the ‘stone age’ societies may well have been female led too.

  14. barriejohn says:

    Newspaniard: Find a post where I referred to ANYONE as a “Right Wing Racist Bigot” if you can, because you’ll be searching for a bloody long time. And try to find any post of mine expressing “hard left wing views” as well, as I don’t hold any. Still, not the first time that I’ve been accused of saying things that originated on someone else’s keyboard!

  15. barriejohn says:

    Yahoo! Answers may not be the fount of all knowledge, but some of the comments here are interesting, if not universally enlightening!;_ylt=A0LEVvgxFXZUMjIAGH93Bwx.?qid=20110211051521AAxMDHV

    I agree with the person who says: “you can’t stop what happens in somebodies (sic) home. If they enact Sharia Law within a tight knit community, you may never know it”. As I said above, it’s the same with Jewish and other groups, but, as others have pointed out, we shouldn’t be encouraging or facilitating this. Such rulings are almost always disadvantageous to women, and even if participants THINK that they are under no coercion, most of us can see quite clearly what is really happening.

    (Copy and Paste and you should get the link)

  16. Paul Cook says:


    Do you have any evidence for your remark that you’suspect our legal system is being undermined by muslim judges, muslim crown prosecutors and barristers who appear to apply sharia law by picking bits from English common law to prosecute/persecute people’s right to expressing an opinion,’

    Which legal system do you mean?
    In the countries that make up the UK there are (apart from EU law which doesn’t apply to the Channel Islands), several legal systems.
    England & Wales use English common law. Judge made law using legal precedent.
    Scotland is a catholic based civil legal system.
    Northern Irelnand has it’s own legal system. Quite unique. England seems to try out legal things there that the mainland would find distasteful such as Diplock Courts (courts without juries).
    Each of the Channel Islands have their own unique legal systems and laws.
    And finally the Isle of Man has it’s own legal system.
    The Isle Of Scilly is an English legal system.

  17. Newspaniard says:

    @Paul Cook. There you go again clouding the issue with irrelevancies. It is only the victim of these injustices (the accused) who will ever know that his utterances have been twisted to fit the case to criminalize him. The law officials I mentioned are far too clever to make their activities obvious.
    (Paranoid of Spain)

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