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Lord Chief Justice celebrates "Equality Before The Law"

Judical Communications Office news release

News release 12/08



The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, speaking at the London Muslim Centre, has underlined that all who come before the law in England and Wales will be treated equally.

In a wide ranging speech, Lord Phillips touched on the development of the law in progressively tackling and outlawing discrimination including discrimination based on gender, race or religion.

He emphasised that judges act in accordance with their oath to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm.” The Lord Chief Justice gave a public assurance in these terms:

“Any man or woman who appears before a judge in this country will receive equal treatment in the administration of the law.”

He spoke of the laws of the country offering freedom and equality, including respect for the right to practise the religion of your choice. Equality involved both rights and obligations:

“Rights carry with them obligations, and those who come to live in this country and benefit from the rights enjoyed by all who live here, also necessarily come under the same obligations that the law imposes on all who live here”.

Within this broad context the Lord Chief Justice addressed the issue of Sharia Law, a set of principles governing the way that, according to the Muslim faith, one should live one’s life in accordance with the will of God. Lord Phillips considered there was “widespread misunderstanding” of the nature of Sharia law, and that in cases where the principles did not come into conflict with the laws of England & Wales they could be followed without legal interference.

However what would be in conflict with the law of England & Wales would be the imposition of certain sanctions for failure to comply with Sharia principles, for example the imposition of severe physical punishments.

Lord Phillips commented:

“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 [with the understanding] … that any sanctions for a failure to comply with the agreed terms of mediation would be drawn from the Laws of England and Wales.”

He gave as further examples the creation of specialist financial products and services which comply with Sharia principles.

The Lord Chief Justice dismissed any notion of Sharia courts operating in this country and seeking to impose such punishments.

“There can be no question of such courts sitting in this country, or such sanctions being applied here. So far as the law is concerned, those who live in this country are governed by English and Welsh law and subject to the jurisdiction of the English and Welsh courts.”

Lord Phillips paid warm tribute to the 1.6 million strong Muslim population, who he said formed a “vital and valued element of British Society”. He acknowledged that he would like to see greater numbers from the Muslim community considering a career in the legal profession, and for more Muslim lawyers to consider a judicial career.

“I have no doubt that there are, in the Muslim community, many men and women alike who would make outstanding lawyers and outstanding judges. It is important that they should recognise that they have a valuable potential role to play as judges.”

Note for Editors

  1. Lord Phillips speech, “Equality Before the Law” was given at the London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel Road, London E1. Prior to giving the speech he was given an escorted tour of the Mosque and the Centre’s many facilities, which are available for use by all communities. He also visited the pro bono unit based at the Centre, providing free legal advice to users and the local community.
  2. Copies of the speech are from the link below.
  3. For further information, please contact Judicial Communications Office, on 020 7073 4852, or email Press Enquiries


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