Update on Baroness Cox’s Equality Bill
One Law for All has been spending a lot of time recently working with Caroline Cox and her team in promoting the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equalities) Bill. The aim of the Bill, which was introduced to the House of Lords last year, is to make arbitration services in the UK subject to equality laws and to bar any arbitration where parties are of unequal standing; for example, it would disallow arbitration providers placing greater weight on the testimony of one party over another, as is the case with sharia law where a wife’s word is worth only half of her husband’s. The Bill will also create a criminal offence and make it illegal for arbitration bodies to pretend they have greater jurisdiction than they do – in other words, preventing them from misinforming people that they must obey their rulings. It will also place a duty on public bodies in the UK to inform women of their rights under British law.
The Bill is due for a second reading in the House of Lords this October. Many Peers have already pledged support but we need your help in persuading them further. If you have time, please write to any members of the House of Lords and ask them to consider the seriousness of this Bill and its need in maintaining a society where all people are equal before a single secular and democratic law. In your letter, you could point out to Peers that the Islamic Sharia Council and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal both openly acknowledge that the testimony of women is given less value than that of men, that custody of children is awarded to fathers regardless of the circumstances, and that sharia family law permits, and therefore encourages, domestic violence and the abuse of women and children. You can find out how to write to Peers here: http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-a-lord/lord/. You can read the bill here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/arbitrationandmediationservicesequality.html.
‘Equal and Free?’, a book of evidence compiled in support of the Bill, can be found here:http://equalandfree.org/download-file/downloads/EqualandFree.pdf. It includes testimony from women who have been through the sharia family law system here in Britain, as well as charities and groups which work closely with these women. It also looks at other religious tribunals, such as the Beth Din, and the effect the Bill may have on arbitration more broadly.
Debates and Conferences
One of the issues of concern to those deciding whether to support the Bill is that it may represent an infringement on religious liberty. One Law for All maintains that the right to freedom of religion ends at the point where other people’s rights begin. Sharia family and criminal law represent a serious infringement upon the rights of women to receive a fair hearing and to live without violence or the threat of violence. We will be holding a debate on this issue in the coming months and will invite members of both Houses of Parliament to attend – further details will follow. For more information on other speaking engagements and events, visit:http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/category/events/.
As has been mentioned, sharia family law awards custody of children to fathers from a pre-set age regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of whether the father is abusive or violent. Again, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal and the Islamic Sharia Council do not deny this fact. It is also known that matters of child custody and contact are being increasingly heard by sharia bodies, increasing the isolation of Muslims in Britain and endangering the children of Muslim parents who may be excluded from the protections provided by British law – which places the wellbeing of the child as the paramount consideration in all questions of this kind. We have been pushing this message very strongly at the House of Lords; all Peers have now received a copy of ‘Equal and Free?’ which contains details of how sharia family law is flouting legal norms in matters of child protection, and the danger this represents – it is creating a parallel legal system, based on religion, in the UK.
December will mark four years since the establishment of the One Law for All campaign. A lot has changed in the public debate on Sharia law and equality as a result of our campaign. If you want to and can, please help us to continue our essential work. To donate to the work of One Law for All, you can either send a cheque made payable to One Law for All to BM Box 2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK or pay via Paypal. We also need regular support and for supporters to commit to giving at least £5-10 a month via direct debit. You can find out more about how to donate or join the 100 Club here: http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/donate/.
Anne Marie Waters
One Law for All Spokesperson
1. The One Law for All Campaign was launched on 10 December 2008, International Human Rights Day, to call on the UK Government to recognise that Sharia and religious courts are arbitrary and discriminatory against women and children in particular and that citizenship and human rights are non-negotiable.
2. For further information contact:
Anne Marie Waters
One Law for All
BM Box 2387
London WC1N 3XX, UK