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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

We the undersigned are being bullshitted

I do wonder about the efficacy or otherwise of these Downing Street petitions. I occasionally sign one, knowing full well that the eventual response from the Prime Minister’s office will be a load of bullshit. I guess I do it because someone has asked me to, and I don’t see the harm in it – except for the time it seems to waste.

The latest – for me, anyway – is the excuse for a response that has come from a petition about sharia law.

The petition reads, “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop Islamic Sharia Law being used in Great Britain.” The details are then given thus:

“The most senior judge in England and Wales has said that aspects of Islamic sharia law could be used in the UK, provided they don’t conflict with existing laws. I say that Islamic sharia law should not be used in the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister should do everything within his power to stop it being introduced.”

Completely ignoring the fact that Muslim women – probably the greatest victims of this Dark Ages system – can feel coerced into having something dealt with under this religious excuse for a legal system and then come off the worse for it, the Prime Minister’s office fobs us off with this:

Shari’a law is the code of personal religious law governing the conduct of Muslims. It can extend into all aspects of people’s lives – personal, religious, family, civil and criminal.

Shari’a law is not part of the law of England and Wales. The Government does not intend to change this position in relation to the whole or part of the United Kingdom. However, provided an activity prescribed by Shari’a law does not contravene the law of England and Wales, there is nothing to prohibit it. Muslims can, for example, wear traditional dress and follow dietary rules. They are completely free to worship in the way that they want.

There can never be reliance on the fact that an act is permitted under Shari’a law as a justification for committing what is, under the law of England and Wales, a criminal act. Nor, for example, could someone expect a civil court, in reaching a decision on a contractual case under English or Scottish law, to apply the principles of Shari’a law.

Criminal matters, both small and serious, will always be heard in a Crown or Magistrate’s Court in England and Wales, and in Sheriff’s Courts in Scotland. The decisions made in an alternative court will not be recognised.

Yes, we know everything has to comply with British secular law, but we also know that the Arbitration Act allows sharia decisions to be considered and that subsequent courts – i.e. proper courts – are likely then to rubberstamp them.

We saw just after Christmas how one of Britain’s most senior legal figures, Baroness Butler-Sloss, reckons sharia divorces should be recognised by courts and the government.

But we’ve also seen examples of how sharia law can disadvantage women, and not just in marital disputes, but also when a criminal act has been committed, e.g., in this case, assault.

Nothing less than a firm statement saying no to sharia law, and affirming that matters of divorce will go through the British civil courts and antisocial behaviour will go through the criminal courts, will do.

Enough appeasement to religion goes on in our legal system as it is, with Jews and Muslims allowed to slaughter animals in ways that are deemed barbaric by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (see the third paragraph of this post from last November) and unacceptable to most caring people and Sikhs allowed to do away with the motorbike crash helmet everyone else has to wear.

If we keep giving way, we’ll keep giving way.

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