Thursday, July 3, 2008
By Christopher Hope and James Kirkup
Last Updated: 9:57PM BST 03/07/2008
Muslims in Britain should be able to live according to Sharia law, the country's most senior judge has said.
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, strongly backed Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over his suggestion earlier this year that aspects of Sharia law should be adopted in Britain.
The archbishop's remarks sparked a national debate and led to calls for his resignation.
Risking inflaming that controversy again, Lord Phillips has said that Muslims in Britain should be able to use Sharia to decide financial and marital disputes.
The judge did add that only the criminal courts should have the power to decide when a crime has been committed and when to impose punishment.
But his suggestion that different religious groups should run their affairs according to different rules sparked warnings that community cohesion could be undermined.
In a speech at the East London Muslim Centre in east London, Lord Phillips said it was "not very radical" for Dr Williams to argue that Sharia law can be used to help govern issues like family disputes and the sale of financial products.
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."
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