Courts: Religion

Justice written question – answered on 30th April 2008.

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Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what consideration he has given to proposals that religious court should be allowed to arbitrate on some family and matrimonial disputes; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

The United Kingdom does not accommodate religious legal systems as such in this country's laws and there is no intention to change this. Under section 10A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, as amended by the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002, a court may refuse a decree absolute of divorce to parties who have not given their spouses a religious divorce although it does not allow recognition of the religious divorce. Currently, this provision only applies to members of the Jewish faith. However, it is open to any prescribed religious group to apply to the Lord Chancellor for recognition under this law should it wish to do so.

In Muslim family disputes, the parties may choose to have their financial affairs and decisions about their children decided by a Sharia Council. If the parties wish to have that decision recognised by English authorities, they are at liberty to draft a consent order embodying the terms of the agreement and submit it to an English or Welsh court. This allows it to be scrutinised by an English or Welsh judge to ensure that it complies with English legal tenets. If the decision is made into a court order the English and Welsh courts can enforce it.

Any member of any community has the right to refer to an English court at any point, particularly in the event that they feel pressured or coerced to resolve an issue in a way with which they feel uncomfortable.

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