Et muslimsk college i Warwickshire driver Stobritannias første offisielle shariadomstol. The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal har benyttet sharialover til å avgjøre mer enn hundre sivile saker mellom muslimer i hele landet siden den ble åpnet i desember i fjor.
Tribunalets virksomhet drives parallelt med det britiske rettsvesenet:
The tribunal, which runs along side the British legal system, was set up by scholars and lawyers at Hijaz College Islamic University in Watling Street, Nuneaton.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, recently said there was no reason why sharia law, derived from several sources including the Koran, could not be used for contractual agreements and marital disputes.
Cases already heard in Nuneaton include an inheritance dispute between three sisters and their two brothers, a divorce and a neighbour dispute.
I arvesaken ble mennene innvilget dobbelt så mye av den aktuelle arven enn de involverte søstrene. Etter høringen i skilsmisse-saken avgjorde domstolen at en somalisk kvinne skulle bli innvilget en islamsk khula (annullering) til tross for ektemannens kraftige protester. Og i nabokrangelen bestemte tribunalet at den tapende part – en gruppe unge muslimske avgangsstudenter – skal være lærere for den seirende part, som har små barn.
Faisal Aqtab Siddiqi, a commercial law barrister and head of Hijaz College, has sat in judgment at a number of the tribunals.
He said it was not the same as unofficial sharia courts reported to be in operation across the country.
He said: «We are trying to supplement English law by helping the British citizen not to be forced into or coerced into marriage.»
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael NazirAli, who was born in Pakistan and has both a Christian and Muslim family background, said he was concerned that people might feel coerced into accepting sharia arbitration.
Nazir-Ali, som har konvertert fra islam til kristendom, advarer om at anerkjennelse av shariatribunaler kan lede til diskriminering, spesielt mot muslimske kvinner.
Tribunalet opererer innenfor det britiske rettssystemet, og følgelig vil tribunalets bestemmelser bli opprettholdt eller gjennomført av britiske rettsmyndigheter. Shariadomstolen kan ikke tvinge noen inn under sin jurisdiksjon, men dersom noen tilmelder seg tribunalet er de bundet av engelsk lov til å adlyde tribunalets avgjørelse.
Mr Siddiqi said: «As long as the parties have submitted to the tribunal’s jurisdiction, a county court bailiff or high court sheriff can enforce our decisions.
«If the losing party objects, the winning one has to apply to the county court or high court who will enforce the tribunals’ decisions, as long as they are reasonable.
«What we decide will be upheld by the British courts as long as both parties agree to submit to our jurisdiction in the first place.»
The only exception in which both parties must submit to the court’s jurisdiction is divorce cases.
«The tribunal can grant a Muslim woman an annulment irrespective of the husband’s wishes.
«This is to enable her to marry again without being considered to be living in sin.
The college is at Higham Hall, a former stately home. A £5 million expansion aims to to raise student accommodation capacity from 125 to 750.