Top British judge backs Sharia principles


London : Britain’s senior most judge has put up a strong defence of the country’s top Christian priest, saying Sharia principles could be applied to British Muslims without setting up Islamic courts.

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“There can be no question of such courts sitting in this country, or such sanctions being applied here. So far as the law is concerned, those who live in this country are governed by English and Welsh law and subject to the jurisdiction of the English and Welsh courts,” Chief Justice Lord Philllips said.

But in the speech at the East London Muslim Centre in London Thursday night, he said there was no reason why Sharia principles could not be used in “mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution” among Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims.

“There is no reason why Sharia principles, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.

“It must be recognised, however, that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of mediation would be drawn from the laws of England and Wales,” Phillips said.

Sharia had suffered from “widespread misunderstanding” by the rest of the world, he added.

Phillips’ comments echo controversial remarks made by the Archbishop of Canterbury – the head priest of the Church of England – who said in February that adoption of some aspects of the Sharia in Britain seemed “unavoidable”.

Rowan Williams was attacked by Britain’s Culture Minister Andy Burnham, saying the proposal could lead to “social chaos”.

But Phillips said Williams had suggested that the Sharia could play a role in “aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution”.

Phillips, who had chaired the February lecture where Williams made the comments, said the Archbishop’s statement had been profound and “one not readily understood on a single listening”.

The Archbishop had suggested that it might be possible for individuals to opt to resolve certain disputes under their own choice of jurisdiction, Phillips said.

And it was not “very radical to advocate embracing Sharia in the context of family disputes, for example. Our system already goes a long way towards accommodating the Archbishop’s suggestion”.