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Religious Courts

11 December 2009

Professor Gillian DouglasProfessor Gillian Douglas

A landmark study of religious courts and tribunals across the UK is to be carried out by researchers at Cardiff University.

A team from Cardiff Law School and the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK will address concerns which were raised in the aftermath of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lecture on Religious and Civil Law in 2008, which provoked an animated debate concerning the extent to which English law should accommodate religious legal systems, such as Sharia law.

The project, ‘Social Cohesion and Civil Law: Marriage, Divorce and Religious Courts’, has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council / Economic and Social Research Council Religion and Society Programme with an award of £79,862.

It will explore how religious law already functions alongside civil law in the area of marriage and divorce. It examines the workings of three religious courts in detail: a Jewish Beth Din; a matrimonial tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church; and a Muslim ‘Sharia Court’. The project asks ‘What is the legal status of these courts?’ and ‘How do they operate in relation to marriage, divorce and remarriage?’

The research team is led by Professor Gillian Douglas, an expert on family law and Head of School at Cardiff Law School. She is joined by Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, Professor Norman Doe, Director of the Centre for Law and Religion, Russell Sandberg, a lecturer in law at the University and a Research Associate.

Commenting on the project, Professor Douglas said: "The research will involve scrutiny of a sample of files concerning the cases dealt with by the courts and a series of interviews with court personnel. The project is ground-breaking in that although there have been some empirical investigations into the courts or tribunals used by particular religious traditions, no study to date has sought to compare the work of courts or tribunals of different religions and how they relate to the law of the State.

"The project aims to contribute to a greater understanding of whether religious legal systems pose a threat to social stability and cohesion and also to serve as a catalyst for further interdisciplinary research."

The project begins in April 2010 and runs for one year. It will include a Symposium at Cardiff in March 2011.