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Pupil barrister Charlotte Rachael Proudman writes in the Independent about her experiences representing Muslim women at Sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals across the UK. She argues that these bodies operate as a parallel legal system alongside the UK courts, applying procedures and producing outcomes that conflict with the principles of equality required by Parliamentary legislation:
Many Sharia law bodies rule on a range of disputes from domestic violence to child residence all of which should be dealt with by UK courts of law. Having observed Sharia law bodies ruling on legal disputes it is all too apparent that they operate within a misogynist and patriarchal framework which is incompatible with UK legislation. For instance, the cost of an Islamic divorce is £400 for a woman compared to £200 for a man at the Islamic Sharia Council in East London; this is an example of blatant gender discrimination which is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010.
With over 85 Sharia law bodies operating in the UK, the majority of which charge vulnerable and impoverished Muslim women astronomical fees, Sharia law bodies have become successful and lucrative businesses. For instance the Islamic Sharia Council rules on over 500 Islamic divorces per annum at a cost of £400 for every woman applicant, equating to an annual turnover of £200,000 for Islamic divorces only. If we consider the additional legal disputes they rule upon it is likely some Sharia law bodies have an annual turnover of over £500,000. The majority of women I represent can barely afford a £15 weekly shop let alone £400 for an Islamic divorce. These destitute women have been forced to pawn their jewellery and take out loans from dangerous loan sharks in order to pay for Islamic divorces that are not even guaranteed and ultimately to fund a service that is pricing women out of the Sharia law market.
More information on this subject can be found at the website of campaigning group One Law for All, whose report on Sharia law bodies can be downloaded here.