July 15, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Ruslan Kostyuk


Shariat courts are likely to be legalized in London

For over a decade, West European lawyers and politicians discuss the optimum model of relationship between the state and immigrants. Specialists from the United Kingdom traditionally indicate at the advantages of the British model over its continental (French and German) analogues. In Britain, the emphasis is made rather not on integration of the newcomers (like in the adjacent France) but on support of multiculturalism within the framework of peaceful coexistence of ethnic and religious communities. This so-called communitaristic approach was pursued by the by the Tories and the presently dominating New Labourists.

Today, the British legislation provides a reasonable basis for legal employment of immigrants. The British law is rather tolerant towards reunification of immigrant families.

Historically, the United Kingdom used to adopt lots of natives of former British colonies. A large amount of them originate from Islamic states of Asia and Africa. Communities of immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India play a significant role in the socio-professional sphere of the Kingdom. They have especially developed in the area of Big London, in other metropolises of England, and in southern counties. Communitaristic norms are making them a significant factor of social life.

British lawyers discuss the possibility of "conciliation" of the Islamic law and the tradition of Anglo-Saxon justice. This debate involves not only the spiritual leaders of Islamic communities. Several months ago, Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, claimed that adherence of Moslem citizens of Britain to their religious rules would be a benefit for the Kingdom.

In early July, the torch was taken up by Lord Phillip of Worth Matravers, Chief Justice of England and Wales. Addressing hundreds of delegates of the congress of the British Muslim Association in London, the Lord expressed the view that millions of Moslems, permanently residing in Great Britain, should be allowed to manage their "common affairs" in accordance with the Shariat. "There are no convincing arguments against the possibility for the Shariat or other religious code as a base for mediation and other forms of resolving conflicts", the Lord said. He certainly emphasized that the priority of the national law should be in force, but the above quoted phrase was sufficient to elicit hearty applause from the delegates.

According to Lord Philip and his associates, the principles of Shariat could be commonly used in signing marriage contracts, in resolving family disputes, and in dealing with some financial affairs within the community of Moslem believers. It is noteworthy that this viewpoint is shared by several members of Gordon Brown's cabinet.

In fact, British Moslems did not wait for approval from the Anglican Archbishop and Lord Phillip. Around a dozen of Islamic tribunals are already functioning on the British land. They are established at local mosques and religious schools and focus on resolving family disturbances. They don't yet possess a legal status, and are not recognized by the Department of Justice. However, the police and justice authorities have never intervened to close these bodies, obviously sharing the argument of the Chief Justice of England and Wales that such kind of institutions would be essential as a liaison between official courts and Moslem communities. In the nearest time it will be clear whether Islamic court achieve a "green light" in British legal practice.

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