Senior judges to rule on ‘sharia marriage’

[A]s Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared it was ‘inevitable’ that certain parts of Islamic law would be introduced into Britain, the Court of Appeal was told how a 26-year-old British Muslim with learning difficulties was married over the telephone to a woman in Bangladesh. It was arranged by the man’s father and deemed lawful under sharia law.

Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice Hall and Lady Justice Hallett were asked by the man’s family to reject an earlier decision that, because the groom was unable to give his consent, the marriage was unlawful. Mr Justice Wood said that the true test into the validity of the marriage was ‘whether the marriage is so offensive to the conscience of the English court that it should refuse to recognise and give effect to the proper foreign law’.

The judge added that the long-standing British policy to recognise sharia marriages conducted abroad should be offset by the understanding that ‘there are occasions when such a marriage cannot be recognised in England, for example where to do so would be repugnant to public policy’.

The case was brought by Westminster city council community services department after the local authority raised concerns about a marriage in which the groom could not possibly have given consent because of his learning disabilities.

The marriage took place in September 2006. Although the bridegroom stayed in London and listened to the ceremony by speakerphone, the ceremony took place in Bangladesh and was declared valid under sharia law.



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