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ECHR Hears Sharia Law Case

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Tim Dieppe attended a hearing of The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights this week in which a case concerning the application of sharia law was discussed. The case concerns an inheritance dispute and whether it should be resolved according to a civil will, or according to sharia law. Christian Concern intervened in the case because of its importance, and in order to make clear that sharia law is incompatible with human rights. Tim comments on the case and its implications.


I attended a hearing of The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights this week where a case concerning the application of sharia law in Europe was discussed. The case is Molla Sali v. Greece (application no. 2042/14) and it concerns an inheritance dispute about whether a man’s estate should be divided according to the terms of a legal will he drew up, or according to sharia law. Christian Concern submitted an intervention to the case because of the importance of the case in European law and its potential impact on UK domestic law. The ruling will determine whether sharia law can have supremacy over a Member State’s domestic law.


The case

There are legal provisions for Islamic customs to be recognised in the region of Thrace which go back to a treaty signed in 1923. This inheritance case went through several courts in Greece, with the highest court ruling that sharia law should apply. The case was later referred to The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights whose rulings cannot be appealed. A ruling that sharia law should have precedence over the state’s civil law would set an alarming precedent for the Council of Europe’s 47 Member States, including the United Kingdom. By contrast, a ruling that civil law should overrule sharia law would have legal benefit throughout the Council of Europe.


New law proposed

In the meantime, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a bill that would resolve the problem by making application of sharia law in Thrace entirely optional. The new bill will make clear that civil law takes priority unless all parties agree to be governed by sharia law. It will also state that civil courts have a presumption of jurisdiction, and that civil wills by Muslims in the region are valid. It is said that Greece is the only country in Europe where sharia law applies. In reference to this case, and explaining the need for a new law, Tsipras is quoted in the Economist as saying “As a European Union nation, this situation does not bestow honour on us.” It therefore looks like Greece expects to lose this case and is introducing a new law in response. It is notable that the proposed new law does not ban sharia law altogether in Greece, rather it makes clear that the use of sharia law is entirely optional. This therefore continues to leave this region with a parallel discriminatory legal system which people may feel coerced into agreeing to.


Sharia in the UK

Greece is not the only country in Europe where sharia law is practised. There are dozens of sharia courts operating the UK where sharia law is used to adjudicate various disputes. Sharia principles, such as regarding a woman’s voice as half that of a man’s voice, and making divorce much harder for a woman than for a woman are applied, creating a de facto parallel legal system. Furthermore, London has become the European hub of Islamic finance where bonds are issued that come under the jurisdiction of sharia law. The British government became the only non-Muslim state in the world to issue a sharia bond in 2014, meaning that a government bond is regulated by sharia law.


Incompatible with human rights

We intervened in the case in order to make clear that sharia law is fundamentally incompatible with human rights. We hope and pray that the judges will see this and act accordingly. There is no set date for the judgment which should come in the next few months.

 

Links:

Our previous article explaining the importance of the case and our intervention.

Christian Concern’s Submission to the European Court of Human Rights 

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s expert opinion on the incompatibility of sharia law with Western legal tradition

ECHR Webcast of the hearing

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announces bill to limit the jurisdiction of sharia Law in Thrace

Greece prepares to do away with compulsory sharia in Western Thrace

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