- Home Secretary promised MPs an investigation at committee hearing
- Courts cannot intervene on British law but play a role in Islamic marriages
- Keith Vaz welcomes inquiry into extent of Sharia court activity in the UK
An independent inquiry into UK Sharia courts ordered by Home Secretary Theresa May will get underway in the new year and report in 2016, it has been confirmed today.
The probe follows growing concern about how the courts operate a parallel justice system which works against women in Muslim communities.
Speaking at the Home Affairs Select Committee last week Mrs May said she was aware of concerns and promised a review to MPs.
She told the committee: 'I am very aware that there is concern about how Sharia courts are operating in some circumstances in the UK.
'That is why we will be doing a review.'
The independent reviewer is yet to be appointed as work continues to establish the inquiry.
Minister for Countering Extremism Lord Ahmad said today: 'The Government is committed to an independent review to understand the extent to which Sharia may be being misused, or applied in a way which is incompatible with the law in the UK.
'This review will be formally established shortly and we expect an initial report to be issued to the Home Secretary in 2016.'
Sharia courts in the UK have no power over criminal matters but can get involved in religious marriages.
Legal separations still have to be done by official courts but Sharia councils are thought to have ordered settlements between couples who were never formally married.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told MailOnline the inquiry's establishment was 'very welcome'.
He said: 'We need to be aware of what the terms of reference are and, indeed, where the practice of Sharia courts is taking place.
'We know anecdotally the courts exist but I represent a constituency of many different faiths and no one has ever come to me and said that it's happening in Leicester.
'We have one law in this country and that is the law of the land, as established by Parliament. If there is any alternative method of justice that has to be looked at.'
Mr Vaz said his committee would be eager to assist in setting the inquiry terms of reference and urged a speedy appointment of the independent reviewer.
A petition calling for the banning of Sharia courts in the UK was delivered to Downing Street last month.
After delivering the petition, Maryam Namazie of the One Law for All campaign said: 'By allowing religious courts to operate, we are saying that Muslim or Jewish women do not have the same rights as others in this country.
'This is unacceptable.'