Well, it seems that things could go one of two ways. Either the decision of the sharia court is taken as final, and the woman has thereby lost the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the rest of her fellow citizens; or else she retains her rights and freedoms as a UK citizen, and can challenge that divorce settlement in a (secular) court of law.
If the former course is taken, then her individual rights and freedoms have been sacrificed, and we have the unwelcome spectre of a UK citizen being denied basic legal rights on the basis of her cultural or religious status. Under the latter option, where the decisions of sharia courts are denied any independent legal standing and treated as (at best) provisional, it is difficult to see how we would really have a ’supplemental jurisdiction’ of sharia at all. Sharia courts would be treated simply as informal methods for dispute resolution, without any special legal status (just as they are at the moment). But the choice is stark: sharia courts can be given full legal status only at the cost of individual freedoms, and through the suspension of certain legal rights of a section of the population.
These are some of the reasons why Williams’s suggestion is so pernicious. The reasons why it is so confused are equally revealing.
Williams says that: “If any kind of plural jurisdiction is recognised, it would presumably have to be under the rubric that no ’supplementary’ jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights.”
So, despite initial appearances, Williams clearly means to take the second of the two paths mentioned above: sharia would have standing only insofar as it was fully consistent with UK law, and involved no restriction on individual rights and freedoms. But this is not, then, a question of ’supplemental jurisdiction’ rather, it is no jurisdiction at all. Williams wants to have it both ways: legal enactment of sharia, but only insofar as it leaves all our legal rights exactly as they already were. But that is not the same as bringing sharia judgements into UK law - it is merely licensing their ongoing application as a kind of optional and informal method for dispute resolution. Read more