Women and Equalities Minister Justine Greening has said the Government is taking concerns around Sharia courts “extremely seriously” amid fresh calls to abolish them.
Ms Greening did not rule out supporting legislation curtailing the powers of Sharia courts, also known as councils, which settle disputes using Islamic religious law.
The Government launched an independent review into the application of Sharia law earlier this year, while Baroness Cox has brought a Bill through the Lords which could seriously limit the power of the dozens currently operating across the UK.
Sharia ‘councils’ were set up to make decisions on purely religious matters, although there are some bodies that mix Sharia principles with legally binding arbitration. But none can overrule the regular courts.
Speaking during questions to the Minister for Women and Equalities, Tory backbencher Philip Davies (Shipley) urged the Government to support Baroness Cox’s Bill.
In response, Ms Greening said: “I want to assure him that I believe the issue he’s raised is one of the utmost importance.
“We know that there are concerns about Sharia councils, including those that have been raised by Baroness Cox’s Bill as he says, and we take those concerns extremely seriously.
“The Government will respond to that Bill at the second reading, and will continue to consider the issue in light of findings from the independent Sharia review, which he will be aware was launched in May by the previous home secretary, now the Prime Minister.”
The independent review is set to complete in 2017, while Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill is awaiting its second reading in the Commons.
Mr Davies said: “Baroness Cox has long campaigned in the Lords for Sharia councils to be abolished, largely because of the unfair way many women are treated by them.
“Will the Government support Baroness Cox’s private members bill, and ensure that Muslim women enjoy the same protections under the law as everyone else does, and do not feel pressurised into having their cases determined by a Sharia council rather than a British court?”