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record’ Charlie Klendjian of the Lawyers’ Secular Society this week welcomed news that the Law Society in the UK had withdrawn its formal practice note on ‘sharia succession rules’.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 Following this review, we have withdrawn the note and it will no longer be available through our website.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.
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.
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,