The Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority withdraws its endorsement of the Law Society’s discriminatory practice note on Sharia wills

1398734961-protest-staged-against-law-societys-decision-to-recognize-sharia-law_4591701 (1)PRESS RELEASE
11 July 2014

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and One Law for All welcomes the decision by the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority (SRA), the regulatory body for solicitors, to remove the Law Society’s controversial practice note(1) on drafting ‘Sharia compliant’ wills (2) from its ethics guidance on wills. The decision clearly demonstrates that the SRA considers it inappropriate to continue to endorse the note.

The SRA decision comes after threatened legal action on gender equality grounds and represents an important step in our campaign against the Law Society. On 13 March 2014, the Law Society issued a practice note for solicitors on drafting ‘Sharia’ compliant wills. The note, which was drafted with reference to conservative if not fundamentalist Muslim ‘experts’ (3) but not minority women’s organisations, said:

… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs…The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir… Non-Muslims may not inherit at all…a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…

This appalling institutional endorsement of direct gender and other forms of discrimination has been the subject of threatened legal action against the Law Society itself. We have demanded that the Law Society withdraw its guidance but it has resolutely refused to do so. In an extraordinary show of defiance, in a letter dated 4 June 1014, the Law Society stated that it had no intention of withdrawing the practice note and that ‘no equality and diversity implications’ arose from the note. Since receiving the SRA’s decision we have now written to the Law Society again demanding a reconsideration of their position. We are also taking further legal advice on the question of whether solicitors acting on the practice note might be themselves acting unlawfully.

Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors acting on our behalf said:

I am surprised that the Law Society considers that it did not have to consult with any women’s organisations or organisations working with Muslim women, despite the fact that there are significant disputes surrounding Sharia succession rules and a wide range of interpretations as to how they should apply. The Law Society should reconsider its position and withdraw the practice note now that the SRA has agreed to remove its own reference to it.

Pragna Patel of SBS said:

It beggars belief that the Law Society can see no wrong in issuing such blatantly discriminatory and offensive guidance. It shows a racist and callous disregard for minority women’s struggles for equality and Justice in the face of encroaching illiberal religious power. The Law Society should be encouraging and legitimising an equality and human rights and not Sharia compliant legal culture. We urge the Law Society to remove its practice note which is contributing to the disturbing creation of a culture of ‘Sharia compliant’ law and policy in the UK.

Maryam Namazie from One Law for All said:

There is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere. Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a dogmatic and regressive philosophy and a warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law. The Law Society must immediately withdraw its shameful guidance.

NOTES.

1. See SRA ethics guidance on drafting and preparation of wills.

2. The Reference notesaid: “If you are acting for clients for whom Sharia succession rules may be relevant you will find the Law Society’s practice note on the subject helpful.”

3. See for example: Inheritance – Regulations & Exhortations (2nd edition) by Muhammad Al Jibaly, published by Al-Hidaayah Publishing & Distribution Ltd.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, pragna@soublacksisters.co.uk 02085719595.

Louise Whitfield or Sasha Rozansky of Deighton Piece Glynn, LWhitfield@dpglaw.co.uk
SRozansky@dpglaw.co.uk 02074070007.

Maryam Namazie of One Law for All, maryamnamazie@googlemail.com 077 1916 6731.

Press Release: Wills without bigotry – protest against the Law Society

1398734961-protest-staged-against-law-societys-decision-to-recognize-sharia-law_4591701 (1)About 70 protesters rallied outside the office of the Law Society to condemn their endorsement of discriminatory sharia law on April 28 2014.

The protest was organised by anti-racist, feminist and human rights groups, namely One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, and London School of Economics SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society.

Chris Moos was the master of ceremonies of the rally.

At the protest, Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters called upon the Law Society to withdraw its guidance:

Our message to you is this: Wake up: You are the Law Society and not a body advising on the compatibility of the law with religious principles! You have no business in normalising discriminatory religious principles in the legal culture and practice of this country. Your business is to ensure that the law is human rights complaint and not anti-rights compliant. Your business is to tear up the guidance. Your business is to stand with us on this side of the fence and on this side of history.

Maryam Namazie, founder of One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation argued:

There is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere. Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a dogmatic and regressive philosophy and a warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. It is primitive and patriarchal and based on inequality, retribution and religious [im]morality. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law. Law Society listen up: you must immediately withdraw your shameful guidance. Now! In the words of Algerian women singing for change: “We aren’t asking for favours. History speaks for us”.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

The Law Society is violating its own equality policies by providing guidance on Sharia-compliant wills and offering training courses in Sharia law for high street lawyers. It is colluding with Sharia law principles that discriminate against women, non-Muslims and children who are adopted or born to unmarried parents. This is a direct attack on the equal rights of many Muslims, especially women. The Law Society is supposed to uphold the equality values of British law. Instead, it is undermining them. The Law Society would never provide guidance to facilitate racist or homophobic-compliant wills. Why the double standards?

Kate Smurthwaite, comedian and activist, appealed to the Law Society:

Religious bigots are highly skilled at trampling on the rights of women, children and non-believers. They don’t need The Law Society to help them. The value of daughters is THE SAME as the value of sons. All marriages, religious, non-religious, gay or straight are marriages. And every child is legitimate. Faced with bigotry it is the job of all of us – including the Law Society – to challenge it. The protestors today did exactly that. When will The Law Society follow suit and rip up this ‘guide to discrimination’?

Abhishek Phadnis, president of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society, added:

I come from a country which has seen this divisive trend being taken to its logical conclusion – where a woman’s rights to, among other things, alimony and inheritance, depend entirely on her religion, there being different laws for each community. The resulting discrimination has visited appalling suffering upon Muslim women in particular. I have no wish to see it replicated here. A man may choose to be as spiteful and chauvinistic as he wishes, but it is not something our public institutions should encourage or condone. I hope the Law Society will withdraw this Note before it causes any further damage.

James Bloodworth, the Editor of Left Foot Forward, said: [Read more…]

Joint statement on legal note to Universities UK against their guidance condoning gender segregation

Protests-equality_2764314kJoint statement of Southall Black Sisters, One Law for All, Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation and LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society

We are pleased to learn of the legal note submitted to Universities UK (UUK) yesterday in the name of Radha Bhatt, a student of Cambridge University, against their Guidance condoning gender segregation. (Legal Note can be found here: 560365 Letter to Universities UK 06 01 2014 (final).)

We share Radha’s apprehensions that gender segregation reinforces negative views specifically about women, undermines their right to participate in public life on equal terms with men and disproportionately impedes women from ethnic and religious minorities, whose rights to education and gender equality are already imperilled.

Radha’s legal submission makes it unmistakably clear that despite UUK’s protestations, the law could scarcely be more unequivocal on gender segregation. The practice is specifically condemned by the Equality Act as amounting to less favourable treatment of women. We hope it will be noted that this condemnation applies equally to ‘voluntary’ segregation, a notorious misnomer used to pressure students to comply with ‘Mixed’ and ‘Segregated’ zones.

The existing rights legislation recognises that gender segregation undermines the dignity of both men and women and creates a hostile, degrading and humiliating environment. We hope Radha’s representations will remind UUK of its Public Sector Equality Duty towards the imperatives of eliminating discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations between those who share protected characteristics.

Abhishek Phadnis, President of the LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society commented: “The beliefs of visiting speakers are no excuse to legitimise discrimination against women or any group. We applaud Radha for her principled and courageous stand, and hope that UUK will heed her solicitors’ advice to redraft its guidance to reflect the manifest illegality of gender segregation. Following up on our rally against gender segregation, we are looking forward to continuing to work with Southall Black Sisters, One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation to ensure that the rights of all students in the UK are fully upheld at all times.”

Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters commented: “We welcome the legal advice which clearly states that UUK’s position on gender segregation in universities breaches both domestic and international human rights and discrimination law in substance and in process. We note that not a single women’s rights organisation was consulted about the guidance. Had it gone unchallenged, it would have had a profoundly detrimental impact on black and minority women who already struggle to assert their fundamental rights to education, freedom and independence. The whole sorry affair is symptomatic of a bigger battle waged by the religious right (aided and abetted by public bodies like the UUK) to control women’s minds and bodies. We must remain alert to the dangers of religious fundamentalism in all religions because its very goal is to use public spaces to gain power and to destroy the very principles of democracy and the universality of women’s human rights.”

Maryam Namazie, spokesperson for One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation said: “For too long, cultural relativists have excused discrimination against women in the name of ‘respect’ for religious beliefs. Whilst the right to belief is absolute, the right to manifest it is not. Equality must trump religious beliefs, particularly if we want to respect human beings rather than beliefs. Moreover, let’s not forget that Muslims are not a homogeneous group. Endorsing segregation of the sexes means siding with far-Right Islamists – like Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, the Islamic Education and Research Academy and the Islamic Human Rights Commission – at the expense of rights and equality of many Muslims, ex-Muslims and others. We unequivocally support Radha’s stand and will continue to fight for an end to gender segregation at universities, including via teams of sex apartheid busters and a rally on March 8th.”

You can find regular updates on our campaign here.

For further enquiries please contact:

Maryam Namazie
One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
077 1916 6731
@maryamNamazie

Pragna Patel
Southall Black Sisters
Pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
02085719595
@SBSisters

Chris Moos
LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
c.m.moos@lse.ac.uk
074 2872 0599
@LSESUASH