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Home Office review recommends legislative changes to protect Muslim women in Sharia marriages

View profile for Gurdip Brring
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Sharia marriages should be recognised by law in England and Wales, an independent review has found.

The 18-month review, which was first commissioned by Theresa May in 2016 during her time as Home Secretary, set out to explore the issues of whether Sharia law was being ‘misused’ and whether Sharia councils – which provide religion-based legal rulings to Muslim couples that are often incompatible with English law – should be subject to greater regulation.

Concluding in recent days, the Home Office’s review found that “discriminatory practices” were indeed commonplace in the councils which, in the very worst instances, may leave vulnerable women trapped in abusive relationships.

However, it found that abolishing such practices as a whole was “not a viable option,” as they were evidently “fulfilling a need in some Muslim communities.”

It added that Sharia councils would not be subjected to greater regulation.

Nevertheless, the review voiced concerns that a “significant number” of Muslim couples are not registering their marriages under English civil law – meaning that “some Muslim women have no option of obtaining a civil divorce.”

Due to this, the Review has proposed amendments to the Marriage Act 1949 which would require Muslim couples to register their marriages in a civil ceremony alongside their Islamic ceremony.

In turn, “the celebrant of any marriage, including Islamic marriages, would face penalties should they fail to ensure the marriage is also civilly registered,” the review’s proposals suggest.

“By linking Islamic marriage to civil marriage, it ensures that a greater number of women will have the full protection afforded to them in family law and they will face less discriminatory practices,” the report said.

“The review’s findings are based on the evidence we heard from an array of individuals and organisations.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We will consider carefully the review’s findings and its remaining recommendations.”

MFG Solicitors’ family team can advise on divorce, separation, the dissolution of civil partnerships and all other aspects of family law. For more information about how we could help you, please contact us.