While our own legal history has a grim and primitive past; with trial by ordeal and combat being replaced by rough justice and the penalties of death by hanging, drawing, quatering et al – and the Americans and other supposedly civilised jurisdictions around the world continue to exact the penalty of death – we do have the right as commentators to say that this and other cruel punishments are plain wrong, just as we have the right to observe in this country when bad laws are made and bad judgments are handed down.
We are not, by any means yet, in a state of grace where we can legitimately say that our Justice is perfect, or even more foolish - the best in the world – for that degrades the evolution of our system and the work of judges who do their best, in the main, to dispense justice within the confines of a flawed menu of laws.
That stated, there is a shocking story in the Guardian today about a flawed legal system and the remarkable courage of a young woman who has renounced her UN immunity by resigning from her job with the United Nations to protest and test the Sudanese judiciary and Islam itself as it is interpreted in that country.
Guardian: A female Sudanese journalist facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public told a packed Khartoum courtroom yesterday that she was resigning from a UN job that grants her immunity so that she could challenge the law on women’s dress. Lubna Hussein was among 13 women arrested on 3 July in a raid by members of the public order police force on a popular Khartoum cafe. The women were all wearing trousers, considered indecent under the strict interpretation of Islamic law adopted by Sudan ‘s Islamic regime. All but three of the women were flogged at a police station two days later.
I have read with some irritation suggestions from Lord Phillips, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others that we should embrace Sharia law concepts within our nation, and The Times only recently had a Sharia gorge fest reporting on the views of a cleric who wants to see Sharia courts given greater prominence.
We live in an increasingly secular country. I accept, for reasons of history that the Church of England enjoys a degree of primacy, but rather than suggest that we embrace all religious systems within our law, I would prefer to see all religious systems and overt influences removed from law and judicial hearings. We have a common law system which, while not perfect, is evolving. That is one of the benefits of a common law system over more structured written constitutions or civil systems based on codes. It may well lead to imperfection and inconsistency but many of these can be tempered, evened out or put right through our appellate system.
This is not a crass political issue – it is about justice and the rule of law in our country. For my part I do not see how we can operate several different types of law within our nation and I certainly do not feel attracted by the justice of Islam when it continues, even in this country, to be manifestly oppressive to women – most alarmingly, in this country, in terms of the rights of islamic women in relation to divorce and family law issues. I have no difficulty at all with those who wish voluntarily and with informed consent to have their disputes settled by Sharia courts in this country, but I would not wish to see those ‘courts’ have any force of law at all in terms of ousting the jurusdiction of our own courts and system of law – or mediation by those courts barring the right to appeal to the courts of England & Wales.