Bid to ban Muslims from replacing UK law with Sharia courts to be put before MPs TODAY
GETTY MPs will vote on whether to ban Sharia law from replacing UK laws
A private members bill due to be voted on today would stop religious organisations from pretending to be able to act as a court when they have no legal.
Around 85 Sharia courts are thought to exist in Britain and the
Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, first introduced by Baroness Caroline Cox, which has already been passed in the Lords, will also force them to stop discriminating against women.
The bill comes amid growing concern over the way Sharia courts are being used by many in the Muslim community as an alternative legal system in Britain and how they are systematically discriminating against women in civil cases such as divorce.
Today MPs get the opportunity to help women whose suffering would make the suffragettes turn in their graves
Baroness Caroline Cox
The bill was first introduced by humanitarian campaigner Baroness Caroline Cox amid concerns over "systematic" discrimination against women in these quasi-legal systems including Sharia courts.
She said: "Today MPs get the opportunity to help women whose suffering would make the suffragettes turn in their graves. Countless victims of religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination are being treated as second class citizens, no better than the chattels of their husbands.
Baroness Cox added: "While the Bill respects the fundamental principle of freedom of religion and belief, we cannot allow rulings which are incompatible with the laws, values, principles and policies of our country."
The legislation comes before MPs in a week where International Women's Day has been marked.
There are serious concerns over the way Sharia Courts are making rulings on marriage law and divorce with Muslims but not having any legal status.
Despite having no legal status they are also providing families with official marriage and divorce certificates.
It is also understood that the all-male courts are rigged against women fuelled by "a toxic mix of religious fundamentalism, culture and tight-knit communities" according to a book published last year.
Writer and researcher Machteld Zee, a Dutch academic, said: "Sharia councils uphold the theory and practice of the strong hold men have over women."
Ms Zee said: "There are, in fact, two separate legal orders functioning in the UK of which one currently operates in the shadow of the law.
Sharia is the basic Islamic legal system derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith, and while it is practised by many, has no standing within English law.
GETTY There are concerns that many Muslim communities are using Sharia courts to replace British law
Existing legislation permits arbitration to operate according to Sharia principles.
However, according to evidence given to Parliament, many Sharia courts are going beyond their legal remit.
It is claimed that women are often intimidated into compliance and many are prevented from access to independent advice and support.
There are also widespread concerns about the precarious position of women in unrecognised Islamic marriages.
The problem posed by Sharia courts has led Prime Minister David Cameron to insist that immigrant women learn English so that they are no longer isolated in their communities and cut off from knowing their legal rights.
The Bill seeks to correct injustices in Sharia Courts by strengthening the duties of public bodies to ensure that women are made aware of their legal rights.
It would grant new powers to the police and judiciary to protect women from coercion and intimidation.
The Bill would also make it a criminal offence to pretend to act as a court and is being strongly backed by a campaign group representing Muslim women.
Speaking about the operation of Sharia courts, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Women's Advisory Council (MWAC) said: "We support Baroness Cox's efforts to bring such decision making within a regulatory framework and end the discrimination and injustice that some women endure.
GETTY A Sharia court in Nigeria
"Whilst we support tribunals guided by Islamic Law, we do not support the cultural practices which still influence in some quarters and undermine decision making."
Fiona Bruce MP, who is backing the measures in the House of Commons, said: "At its simplest this legislation would stop this discriminatory parallel legal
system from operating in a way that is wholly incompatible with our own.
"It would ensure that, regardless of a person's sex, they would be treated the same way and in accordance with British law."
The Bill has been backed by evidence of appalling judgements made by the Sharia courts against women.
Following a forced marriage, Sara applied to a Sharia council for an Islamic divorce. Despite gaining a civil divorce through the British courts, she was "pressurised" by the council to return to her 'husband'.
She said: "The Sharia council 'judges' did not listen to a word I had to say. They did not look at me when they were talking to me, rather they would look at the floor. It was awful. I felt like a second class citizen."