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Matrimonial Proceedings: Religion

Justice written question – answered on 23rd October 2008.

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Shadow Minister (Health)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what guidance is issued on the validity of (a) fatwas and (b) other rulings issued by religious authorities in the determination of matrimonial disputes.

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

We do not issue any guidance on the validity of fatwas or other rulings by a religious authority because there is no need for such guidance. Shari'a law has no jurisdiction in England and Wales and there is no intention to change this position. Similarly, we do not accommodate any other religious legal system in this country's laws. Any order in a family case is made or approved by a family judge applying English family law.

If, in a family dispute dealing with money or children, the parties to a judgment in a Shari'a council wish to have this 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 court. This allows English judges to scrutinise it to ensure that it complies with English legal tenets.

The use of religious courts to deal with personal disputes is well established. Any member of a religious community has the option to use religious courts and to agree to abide by their decisions but these decisions are subject to national law and cannot be enforced through the national courts save in certain limited circumstances when the religious court acts as arbitrator within the meaning of the Arbitration Act 1996. Arbitration does not apply to family law and the only decisions which can be enforced are those relating to civil disputes.

Religious courts are always subservient to the established family courts of England and Wales.

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