Sharia Courts - Are they Legal?

Posted: Monday, 15 September 2008 @ 18:08

It now seems accepted that Sharia Courts are legal alternatives to the traditional court system in the UK – as long as all parties agree.

The UK courts have for a long time now been promoting ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ – whereby parties to a legal dispute are encouraged to settle their disputes out of court. Often this is achieved by negotiation, sometimes by Mediation (whereby an independent 3rd party tries to broker a settlement between the parties) and more rarely (unless in the construction sector) by Arbitration.

Arbitration is different from the other methods in that the parties submit their dispute to an Arbitrator and agree that his or her decision will be binding. It is governed by the Arbitration Act 1996 and the decision reached will be enforced by the UK courts as if it were one of their own judgments.

The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal has taken advantage of the Arbitration Act 1986 and has now set up Sharia Courts in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with new courts expected soon in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

It is likely that these courts will deal with matrimonial disputes and some financial cases under Sharia law. The important thing is that all parties must agree to submit their dispute to one of these courts.

The Arbitrator must still act within the UK law and make a decision that is reasonable. If not, it can be challenged in the UK courts.

A great advantage of the UK court system over this type of arbitration is that it can be used even when your opponent doesn’t want to play ball. If they don’t take part in the proceedings, the court will still be prepared to make an enforceable judgment against them. This Sharia court system, on the other hand, is dependent on everyone agreeing that the Arbitrator’s decision will be binding.

It will be interesting to see what inroads this system will make into the resolution of business disputes.


Gary Cousins, Business Lawyer

This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.

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