A leading Muslim youth organisation has said that the Chief Justice “recognised Britain’s diversity” when he said that elements of Sharia law could be used in the legal system.
Lord Phillips, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said at a meeting in an east London mosque:
“There is no reason why Sharia principles, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.
“It must be recognised, however, that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of mediation would be drawn from the laws of England and Wales.”
Mr. Mohammed Shafiq, Director of the Foundation, said:
“I am grateful that the Lord Chief Justice has made this important intervention into tackling some of the misconceptions of Sharia law.
“There is clearly an appetite in this country for some elements of Sharia law to be implemented in relation to finance and family matters.
“When the Archbishop of Canterbury raised this issue there were fascist headlines in some newspapers and unnecessary hatred directed towards Muslims, we should debate these issues but they must be in a respectful manner that is tolerant of other views.
“Lord Phillips shows the importance of tackling ignorance on important issues, he stands taller today in the Muslim community.”
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was heavily criticised when he said in February that the adoption of elements of Sharia law in the UK “seems unavoidable.”
Dr Williams said that a “constructive accommodation” must be found over issues such as divorce and added that people should not imagine “we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and just associate it with Saudi Arabia.”
However, the Archbishop went on to criticise the practice of Sharia law in some Muslim states, specifically the treatment of women and extreme punishments.
Homosexuality is punishable by death under Sharia and human rights groups claim that hundreds of gay men have been put to death in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
“It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system,” said Dr Williams.
“There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.
“It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever license a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general.
“But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them.
“In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate.”
He later denied that he called for the introduction of Sharia Law. In a statement he said that he “certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.”