Law Society withdraws guidance on sharia wills after discrimination claims

The society's practice note, published in March, was criticised by the justice secretary Chris Grayling and legal advice suggested there were 'gender equality issues'

Sharia law: guidance intended to help Muslims
Sharia law: guidance intended to help Muslims

Guidance for solicitors on sharia wills and how to manage charitable gifts within them has been withdrawn by the Law Society after there were complaints that it was discriminatory.

The professional body for solicitors published its practice note, which described how the respective entitlements of four male and eight female heirs are calculated, in March. It was based on Sunni Muslim rules – sharia law varies between countries and denominations in the Muslim world.

In May, the justice secretary Chris Grayling told The Daily Telegraph that the society needed to be sure the guidance did not "undermine the principle that Sharia law is not part of the law of England and Wales".

According to legal advice given to the National Secular Society in August by Karon Monaghan QC, a solicitor, the practice note "gives rise to equality issues" because it provides guidance that endorses gender discriminatory laws and promotes an interpretation of sharia that discriminates on the grounds of religion and ethnicity.

After pressure from these and other parties, the Law Society has withdrawn its guidance. A statement on its website from Andrew Caplen, president of the society, said: "Our practice note was intended to support members to better serve their clients as far as is allowed by the law of England and Wales. We reviewed the note in the light of criticism. We have withdrawn the note and we are sorry."

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS, welcomed the decision as "an important reversal of what had seemed to be the relentless march of sharia to becoming de facto British law".

Khalid Sofi, a partner at the law firm Johns & Saggar in London, who specialises in Muslim charities, rejected the suggestion this formed part of any attempt to impose sharia law.

"I think it’s unfortunate that they have withdrawn this," he said. "This was simply helping people who wanted to prepare their wills in a certain way."

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