What is the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal?
The Muslim Arbitration Tribunals were made around 2007. The purpose of these tribunals is to allow Muslims to ensure that dispute resolution can be done according to Shariah law and at the same time expensive and slow litigation in the courts can be avoided.
What type of Dispute Resolution will the Tribunals be involved in?
The tribunals operate under the Arbitration Act 1996. Therefore, they can deal with matters that are related to civil and personal Muslim law. However it is ultra vires for the MAT to deal with matters regarding divorce proceedings (non-religious), custody of children and anything regarding criminal law (obviously because the state is directly involved in that). If any of the matters deal with these affairs, the parties shall be referred to the appropriate courts or bodies. Furthermore, the tribunal only offers arbitration and does not give any advice on legal affairs.
Who will be deciding on the matters put forth to the Tribunal?
There will be an adjudication panel which would consist of a Islamic scholar and a qualified lawyer. The lawyer must be UK qualified with three years of experience after being qualified. There is a intensive recruiting process which makes sure that the proper individuals are selected for these important roles.
What legal issues does the MAT deal with?
There are six legal issues that the Tribunals deal with. These are forced marriages, domestic violence, family dispute cases, commercial and debt disputes, inheritance disputes, and mosque disputes.
What makes the MAT so special and will it work within the British context?
Many people have a fear the decisions in these tribunals will ultimately be dominated by a bunch of elderly trained Imams. However, according to the MAT, this is not to be the case. In fact the whole idea is that the Tribunals be able to resolve the problems Muslims are facing in contemporary Britain. Therefore, the people involved with the MAT will be young people who are British and every opportunity shall be given to female qualified lawyers to adjudicate as part of the panels. Equality shall be considered paramount and there shall be no discrimination based on race or gender.
Furthermore, the MAT has said that they believe in the co-existence of both British and Shariah law. The system in England and Wales is based on the common law and will continue to be so. The MAT shall operate under the Arbitration Act 1996 and only those parties that consent shall be judged under Shariah law. Shariah plays an important role in the personal lives of Muslims, however. The objective shall be that both Shariah and the Common law will be satisfied in the decisions of the MAT.
For example they have taken action against forced marriages where they say 70% of the marriages between a British Citizen and a Muslim from South Asia is forced or involves elements of coercion. This is an issue of great public interest and they have also published a report on this available on their website.
Does the MAT operate with well defined procedural rules?
The MAT had procedural rules which can be found on their website. The rules are based on those of other tribunals that already exist. They are quite comprehensive.
Perhaps the most important of these rules is the Overriding Objective which states that all adjudication will be based on the principles of the Quran, accepted Prophetic practice, the recognized schools of Islamic law, fairness, and efficiency and finally the interests of the parties and the overall public interest.
Since the tribunals come under the Arbitration Act 1996, the civil courts can enforce the decisions using the normal means. Furthermore Clause 23 states tribunal decisions are final although Judicial Review can be done by permission of the higher courts.
What is the difference between the MAT and these Shariah Councils I keep hearing about in the UK?
The MAT is distinct from the other Shariah Councils because it is governed under a set of procedural rules and comes under the Arbitration Act 1996. It is true that informal Shariah councils have existed in the UK since the past 30 years and these have attempted to offer their services of reconciliation. However, they are not governed by any procedural rules.
Has anyone from the UK legal establishment endorsed the MAT and what is their opinion regarding certain types of Shariah punishments?
None other than Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Phillips has PERSONALLY but not in an official capacity endorsed the MAT in a speech he gave at the East London Muslim Centre entitled ‘Equality before the Law.’ He has state that Shariah law is quite misunderstood and that it shares many principles that are common with other world religions. The Lord Chief Justice has done extensive research as to whether Shariah law can exist with English and Welsh common law. He has done this by visiting the Middle Eastern country of Oman where he has extensive discussion with lawyers regarding practical use of Shariah law. It must be said that Oman’s legal system is very similar in structure now to the one in England and Wales. Western law is largely used in most matters while Shariah law is now only limited to matters of personal and family law. The Lord Chief Justice has stated that punishments such as floggings, amputations, or death for disobeying the law shall be unacceptable.