However the problem I have with this new court is that it doesn't restrict itself to purely civil matters despite what is claimed. As the Times puts it:
ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.
The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.
Domestic violence is not a civil matter, it is a criminal offence. Given that sharia law does not exactly come across as being gender neutral, this has the potential to effectively legalise wife beating. If the court reaches a perverse judgement and does not punish the perpetrator then the victim of the assault cannot do much to challenge it because they have waived their right to be protected by the standard justice system in order to have the case tried by a sharia court.
Whilst there will probably be a method of appealing to a higher secular court this is deeply problematic because taking it further will be discouraged by the 'community'. The Times notes that this is already happening:
in a recent inheritance dispute handled by the court in Nuneaton, the estate of a Midlands man was divided between three daughters and two sons.
The judges on the panel gave the sons twice as much as the daughters, in accordance with sharia. Had the family gone to a normal British court, the daughters would have got equal amounts.
In the six cases of domestic violence, Siddiqi said the judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders. There was no further punishment.
In each case, the women subsequently withdrew the complaints they had lodged with the police and the police stopped their investigations.
No doubt New Labour's feminist contingent will be denouncing this development any minute now.