LONDON – Britain's most senior judge declared last night that there was no place for Sharia courts in this country and insisted that all residents were governed by the laws of England and Wales.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, told an audience of several hundred at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel that those who chose to live in England and Wales had to accept the laws as they found them.
“There is no question of such [Sharia] courts sitting in this country or such sanctions being applied here.
“So far as the law is concerned, those who live in this country are governed by English and Welsh law and subject to the jurisdiction of the English and Welsh courts,” he said.
But Lord Phillips, in one of his last speeches before retiring as Lord Chief Justice to become senior law lord in autumn, defended Sharia principles.
A Muslim was free to practise his or her own faith and live his or her life in accordance with those principles, yet not be in conflict with the law.
People's view of Sharia was often coloured by extremists who “invoke it, perversely, to justify terrorist atrocities such as suicide bombing”.
It was not Sharia, but sanctions imposed in some Muslim countries - such as flogging, stoning, cutting off hands, or killing - that would conflict with our laws. “There can be no question of such sanctions being applied to or by any Muslim who lives within this jurisdiction,” he said.
Muslim men and women were entitled to be treated the same way as all others, but there was another side to that coin.
“Those who come to live in this country and benefit from the rights enjoyed by all who live here also necessarily come under the same obligations that the law imposes on all who live here.”
Lord Phillips also used his speech to defend the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who created a furore in February when he seemed to suggest that Muslims could be governed in respect of some disputes by Sharia.
The comments were made at a lecture that Lord Phillips had chaired. He said that the Archbishop's lecture had been profound and “one not readily understood on a single listening”. He had certainly not suggested that Muslims might be governed by their own system of Sharia. Rather the Archbishop had suggested that it might be possible for individuals to opt to resolve certain disputes under their own choice of jurisdiction.
And it was not “very radical to advocate embracing Sharia in the context of family disputes, for example. Our system already goes a long way towards accommodating the Archbishop's suggestion.” People were free to choose a system of mediation or arbitration for the resolution of their disputes - whether Sharia or any other religious code.
Any sanctions or failure to comply with the agreed terms of any mediation would, however, be drawn from the laws of England and Wales. Divorce could therefore be effected only in accordance with the civil law of this country.
Lord Phillips also said that the 1.6 million Muslims living in Britain formed a “vital and valued element of British society”, and called for more Muslim lawyers to consider applying to be judges. Before his speech, Lord Phillips was escorted through the Muslim centre in the East End of London.