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Parliamentary Bill seeks to limit sharia law in UK

Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill tabled in House of Lords

A Parliamentary Bill has been tabled in the House of Lords that would stop sharia courts in this country claiming that they have legal jurisdiction over family or criminal law.

The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, was introduced into the House of Lords by Baroness Caroline Cox (independent) and is supported by the National Secular Society. She says that it is intended to tackle the discrimination suffered by muslim women within the sharia court system. The Bill, which applies to all arbitration tribunals, will outlaw the practice of giving women's testimony half the weight of men's. The Bill addresses human rights issues and does not mention Islam.

The Bill's proposals include:

Lady Cox said:

"Equality under the law is a core value of British justice. My Bill seeks to preserve that standard. I have no desire to interfere in the internal theological affairs of religious groups, and my Bill does not do that. My Bill seeks to stop parallel legal, or 'quasi-legal', systems taking root in our nation. Cases of criminal law and family law are matters reserved for our English courts alone.

"Through these proposals, I want to make it perfectly clear in the law that discrimination against women shall not be allowed within arbitration. I am deeply concerned about the treatment of Muslim women by Sharia Courts. We must do all that we can to make sure they are free from any coercion, intimidation or unfairness.

"There is considerable evidence that many women are suffering in many ways (such as domestic violence or unequal access to divorce) due to discriminatory practices in our country today and we cannot continue to condone this situation. Many women say, 'we came to this country to escape these practices only to find the situation is worse here'."