Chief Justice of England: It's shari'a time

Laissez faire!

Lord Phillips said: “It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by law other than English law.”

Therefore, he said, he could see no reason why Sharia law should not be used to settle disputes in this country.

He said: “There is no reason why principles of Sharia law, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.”

He added: “It must be recognized however that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of the mediation would be drawn from the laws of England and Wales.”…

“In some countries the courts interpret Sharia law as calling for severe physical punishment. There can be no question of such courts sitting in this country, or such sanctions being applied here.”

Sound familiar?

He’s talking about shari’a arrangements for traditional matters of contract law, like financial or family matters. I touched on this last month in the post about the French marriage that was annulled because the wife wasn’t a virgin. Look at the end of any contract you’ve ever signed and you’ll likely see a clause saying something like, “In the event of a dispute that requires arbitration, the law of Jurisdiction X shall govern.” Phillips is talking about using the Koran as a substitute for Jurisdiction X. Or maybe not even that: Any one of us could of course write a will that tracks the Koranic guidelines for inheritance just because we like how those guidelines work. No need to so much as mention the Koran, Islam, or shari’a by name.

The catch, though, is that even under common law there’s no absolute freedom of contract. You can’t, for instance, sign a binding contract to sell illegal drugs; it’ll be voided as being against public policy. Presumably so would any financial or family arrangement under a shari’a contract that led to, say, women being treated as property — although given the lengths to which the UK seems willing to go to honor multicultural values, who knows anymore? The most interesting thing about the Telegraph piece are the quotes from prominent Muslims opposing the idea, which is in line with my suspicions from the other day about how limited Muslim opposition really was to that dopey police ad with the puppy. Yet again we find a “well meaning” British liberal encouraging separatism and it falls to Muslim community leaders to take him aside and have a word about assimilation. Exit quotation from a Muslim Labour MP: “What Lord Phillips and the archbishop are discussing is something that is completely outside their area of understanding.”

Update: Forget about shari’a courts, though, adds Phillips. Whew!