Muslim Arbitration Tribunal
The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal is a form of alternative dispute resolution which operates under the Arbitration Act 1996 which is available in the United Kingdom to Muslims who wish to resolve disputes without recourse to the courts system. The tribunals were set up by lawyer Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi and operate in London, Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and Nuneaton. Two more are planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh. Rulings can be enforced in both the County Courts and the High Court. The media have described a system of Islamic Sharia courts which have the power to rule in civil cases. As of 2008, the courts had dealt with around 100 cases dealing with issues such as inheritance and nuisance neighbours.
The MAT operates under Section 1 of the Arbitration Act which states that: “the parties should be free to agree how their disputes are resolved, subject only to such safeguards as are necessary in the public interest”. As such it operates within the framework of English law and does not constitute a separate Islamic legal system. Under the Act they are deemed to be "arbitration tribunals".
The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal has no powers to grant a divorce which is valid in English and Welsh law. A talaq can be granted to recognise divorce. A sharia marriage has no bearing on personal status under UK law. The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal has no jurisdiction on criminal matters but can attempt reconciliation between spouses.
The BBC investigative series Panorama and the Daily Mail newspaper are among those who allege that women do sometimes receive less favourable treatment under this form of dispute resolution. Under sharia, women are not treated equally to men in terms of marriage separation rights.
Dominic Grieve of the Conservative Party has stated: “If it is true that these tribunals are passing binding decisions in the areas of family and criminal law, I would like to know which courts are enforcing them because I would consider such action unlawful. British law is absolute and must remain so."
An ongoing e-petition to the UK government to prohibit and criminalise sharia courts has received over 15,000 signatures. The government issued a response, stating that sharia rulings are only permitted if legal in their jurisdiction, and that attitudes contrary to UK law should be eradicated.
- Matthew Hickley (2008-09-15). "Islamic sharia courts in Britain are now 'legally binding' | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- Taher, Abul (2008-09-14). "Revealed: UK’s first official sharia courts". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- Rozenberg, Joshua (2008-09-14). "What can sharia courts do in Britain?". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- "Extra-judicial divorces, which have been granted since 1 January 1974 in this country, are not valid." "Divorce". www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk. UK Border Agency. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- "To get married in an Anglican church, contact your local church [...] For all other marriages or civil partnerships you must give notice at your local register office." "Marriages and civil partnerships in the UK". gov.uk. UK Government Digital Service. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- "[...] the cost of an Islamic divorce should not vary according to the gender of the petitioner, as this is a form of gender discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010." Proudman, Charlotte. "A Practical and Legal Analysis of Islamic Marriage, Divorce and Dowry". Family Law Week. Law Week Limited. Retrieved 25 April 2013.