The sharia courts he’s worried about can operate as a result of the 1996 Arbitration Act. Some fear that, because they’re run by Muslims using their silly sharia law as a basis, such groups as women and gays would not come off well in any arbitration they handed out.
As to the relationship of these tribunals to public law, it should be clear, surely, that no matter what we may have agreed to do in the past, every citizen has the right to have recourse to the courts to secure their fundamental freedoms and rights. It is then for these courts to decide how such freedoms and rights are to be upheld.
It is most important for personal liberty and social order that this duty is not negotiated away in the cause of misplaced concern for community relations or communal harmony.
While it’s rich seeing an avowed homophobe talk about how important personal liberty is, on this one he’s right.
We must also be clear that the courts, in this country, cannot uphold what is contrary to public law. That is to say, decisions of any quasi-legal bodies must accord with the law of the land and remedy for any decisions not in such accordance must lie in the courts.
See also Joshua Rosenberg on the subject. While he points out that there’s nothing a sharia court can do to overturn established British law (and that is how it should be), it’s easy to see that, within the Muslim culture, a woman could be made to feel cowed into accepting decisions she might not if everything were left to the civil courts of the land and she were exposed to advice from outside that oppressive, religion-inspired culture. Within that culture, it might be hard for someone who is on the receiving end of a sharia decision he or she does not like to go, then, to the proper courts, for fear of being seen as some sort of pariah within Islam – or, worse, subjected to some sort of punishment.
Better to keep religion and the law well apart. Especially a religion like Islam.