Non-Muslims turning to sharia ‘courts’ in Britain to resolve disputes

Growing numbers of non-Muslims are turning to Sharia “courts” to resolve disputes in Britain, it has been claimed. Up to five per cent of cases heard by the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) involve people who do not follow the Islamic faith, it has been estimated.

The body operates court-like arbitration hearings in London, Bradford, Birmingham, Coventry and Manchester, mainly dealing with disputes between business partners and mosques. Those who use the service agree voluntarily to submit to its adjudication but its rulings are considered to be legally binding and can be enforced in county courts under the 1996 Arbitration Act. A separate body, the Islamic Sharia Council, has been operating for several years, hearing divorce cases with a panel of seven “judges” based in London.

The MAT said that the greater weight attached to oral agreements in its hearings than the courts was making its service attractive to non-Muslims in Britain, who it estimates are now involved in one in 20 of its cases. “We put weight on oral agreements, whereas the British courts do not,” said Freed Chedie, a spokesman.