Unpublished research by one of the UK's leading think-tanks makes unfavourable comparisons between the conduct of Muslim Sharia law courts with that of rabbinical courts, the Batei Din. The research suggests that while Batei Din are injuncted by Jewish law to act in accordance with the law of the land, Sharia courts aim to usurp local laws.
Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove this week cited a preliminary report prepared for the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange as a basis for his opposition to Sharia courts in the UK. "There is a difference between the courts of the Jewish community and the reach of Sharia, as some have advocated it," he said at the Conservative Friends of Israel reception at the party conference. "And besides, the overwhelming majority of Muslim citizens don't want to live under Sharia".
Mr Gove, one of the founders of Policy Exchange in 2002, told the JC that the report compared the roles of the two different types of religious courts, Jewish and Muslim, point by point, as they act in different countries.
He explained: "While the Beth Din provide advice and guidance to Jews while following the law of the land, the Sharia courts are all about usurping the law of the land." In his opinion, Sharia courts could only be allowed in the UK "if they adhere to the law of the land, which are at the foundation of Western society and do not upset the modus vivendi."
The Sharia-courts issue exploded in February when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said that the use of some aspect of Sharia law seemed "unavoidable". It resurfaced recently when the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, said: "There is no reason why Sharia principles, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution."
In fact there are already Sharia courts in Britain delivering verdicts that are officially binding by law, under the 1996 Arbitration Act.
Policy Exchange is facing legal action for accusing British mosques of distributing extremist literature.
The Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in west London claims that Policy Exchange fabricated several receipts used as evidence of purchase of alleged extremist literature.