Tag Archive for 'Sharia'


The Archbishop of Canterbury: mischaracterised, but still off the rails

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has drawn a storm of criticism ( BBC, Times, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph) by calling for a “plural jurisdiction” that allows for Islamic law to be recognised in Britain.

It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system. We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances.

There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.

That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western democracy. But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that.

As I understand it, under English (and, I’m guessing, Australian) law, there is already the following arrangement:

In the event of a civil dispute, if both parties independently agree to it, that dispute can be heard in arbitration by somebody (or a group of people) separate from the courts and the decision of that arbitration will be binding under the law. There are nevertheless legal limits as to what the arbitration may declare.

As a first example, this practice is widely used in investment law, both domestic and international.

As a second example, it would be available if a tenant is complaining that their landlord hasn’t fixed the heating.

At present, there is a Jewish version of this set up in Britain. There is nothing to stop a Muslim equivalent being set up, if it hasn’t already.

The key point is that the arbitration can not proceed unless both parties agree beforehand to take part and abide by the ruling. If either one does not, then it goes before the regular courts.

Where the archbishop has gone off the rails, in my opinion, is that he seems to be calling for an entirely extra-judicial set-up; a competing system of justice that is parallel to (not a component of) the general law of the state.  That is simply wrong.