Breathtakingly sexist

That was fast – reactions to the Law Society advice on Sharia wills already.

Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield, cautioned against legislation on the issue but called for a joint investigation by the Commons Justice and Home Affairs Committees into how widespread the use of Sharia law now is in Britain.

“We need a serious look at this through the select committee system,” he said.

“I think it would be harmful to make it a party-political issue.

“This should be dragged out into the open and be discussed.”

Jeremy Corbyn, a member of the Commons Justice Committee said it was “very likely” the issue would now come up.

Louise Mensch, the former Tory MP, described the guide as “utterly unacceptable”.

“There could not be a clearer case for ministers and government to step in than the Law Society’s breathtakingly sexist Sharia law guidelines,” she said.

Meanwhile Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner and patron of Tell Mama, the group which combats anti-Muslim hate crime, said: “The Law Society is wrong.

“It should withdraw its guidelines assisting or promoting Sharia Law in the UK.”

The Law Society says it’s a fuss about nothing.



  1. Al Dente says

    The Law Society says it’s a fuss about nothing.

    It appears that other people would disagree with the Law Society’s opinion.

  2. jesse says

    We kind of went over this last thread, and when I looked nobody had been able to concretely answer: will the Law Society’s guidelines really alter anything in practical terms, or is it a PR move?

    At least one person mentioned that the statutory protections for inheritors exist in the UK (and they appear stronger than those in the US but I don’t know enough about enough to swear to it). But if

    a) a will cant violate the law and b) the Law Society’s members are the ones writing the wills (or assisting them) and c) they all have a legal duty not only to their client but to ensure that the wills fulfill condition a) then how could this change much of anything? The Law Society doesn’t have the power to re-interpret laws, does it? (I am really asking, I don’t know what powers solicitors have in the UK).

    If civil law is still in force — and it is — a Muslim client who wanted to force all the girls who might inherit from him to wear veils as a condition of doing so would be SOL. So wold any attempt to prevent a non-Muslim from inheriting. It would just be void, not enforced, and not even worth the ink on the paper. The same applies to a Jewish client who won’t give a get and wants custody of children — whatever the social consequences if you get a civil divorce, you’re divorced, and the local rabbi and former husband can rail about it all they want. But those social consequences would be there anyway.

    Anyhow, what I am seeing is a professional society trying to come to grips with serving people who now make up a sizable chunk of the population and need legal services and need people who are at least willing to listen to them.

  3. opposablethumbs says

    If a will discriminating between heirs on the grounds of their sex or religion can truthfully be described as “drawn up in accordance with UK Law Society Guidelines” that definitely lends the discrimination an air of legitimacy and strongly implies that it is within universally accepted norms in the UK.

    As such it could constitute just that much more, extra discouragement to the disinherited – unless they are lawyers themselves – from contesting the discrimination.

    No national organisation should be in the business of giving encouragement to practices of this kind.

  4. Maureen Brian says

    I’m going to take this from the top if I may. It will be a bit long.

    1. In order to make a valid will you have to meet three conditions – understand what it is you are doing as you do it, have a grasp of the size and nature of your estate (not to the penny, just in outline) and be aware of those people who might reasonably have a claim on your estate. You are then said to have “testamentary capacity.”

    2. A will doesn’t have to be written by a lawyer: as long as it meets certain minimal conditions of clarity, witnessing, etc then it will be valid. For a death-bed instruction some of these conditions can be waived if the court is willing to accept that this was truly a will.

    3. You are not obliged to leave your estate to particular family members or to include them at all. Some assets, usually real property, will come with a trust or covenant which dictates who it is passed to – ducal estates, that sort of thing. The law is about to change here as male primogeniture for the royal family is on the way out and the aristocracy may be next in line.

    4. So you die and have left what appears to be a valid will. That will can still be challenged – by someone who was financially dependent and on other grounds – lots of precedent to look up. Which is why it makes sense to tell the lawyer drawing up the will about decisions to leave people out. (I’m worth about thruppence-ha’penny and a couple of thousand books but my solicitor has a note of why I chose one person as the if-everyone-else-snuffs-it-first beneficiary rather than her equally worthy sibling.)

    One ground for challenging a will is undue influence – that an individual or a charity or a religious group pressed the testator to divide his estate in a particular way. I can see this happening if, say, a fairly liberal father suddenly made a Sharia-compliant will and made it at the mosque.

    5. The problem with challenging a will like this is that it is the weaker party – financially and perhaps socially – who has to do the challenging and protracted court action can swallow a whole estate. (Jarndyce & Jarndyce, anyone?)

    6. Because we cherish the right to leave our estates as we wish we’ve not yet got discriminatory wills into the legal rules but if these guys carry on like this it may become a possible answer.

    Btw, all this is England and Wales, with Scotland different in detail. I haven’t done this stuff for 20 years so if I’m wrong do, please, correct me.

  5. Maureen Brian says

    On jesse’s point about the responsibilities of solicitors …

    They are supposed to advise their clients if they are planning to write a will open to challenge not to do that, matey, and persuade them to take some other course.

    They’re as fallible as the rest of us, though, and they don’t always do it. The Law Society used to have a dreadful record for keeping its members in line. We sometimes joked that it would take a six-figure sum nicked from client accounts PLUS bumping of a rival solicitor before the Law Society would admit there was cause for concern.

    So much so that after several bungled attempts internally the good order and discipline function was moved to a separate body. I’m not sure how well that is working out.

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