Sharia marriages and the English court – part 1
The High Court has recently ruled that Islamic marriages, in certain circumstances, fall within the scope of English Law.
In 1998, Mrs Akhter and Mr Khan married in an Islamic ceremony (known as a nikah) in a restaurant in the UK in front of 150 guests.
After the marriage broke down in 2018, Mrs Akhter started divorce proceedings in the English courts. Her legal team argued that the Sharia marriage was a ‘valid’ marriage under English Law and although they did not have a civil ceremony in line with the requirements of English law, the couple lived as husband and wife with their four children.
Mr Khan’s legal team argued that the marriage was not valid under English Law and therefore constituted a ‘non marriage’, meaning that Mrs Akhter could not make a financial claim against Mr Khan in this country.
Mr Justice Williams, sitting in the High Court decided that the parties’ marriage was “entered into in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of marriage”, which rendered it ‘void’, rather than a ‘non marriage’. This means that Mrs Akhter is now free to pursue a financial claim under the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act.
Had the judge decided the marriage was a non marriage, Mrs Akhter would be in a very different position and unable to seek financial relief from the court. Justice Williams has stressed that similar issues will be considered on a ‘case by case’ basis, however the ruling gives some hope to Muslim women, who have not previously been able to make a financial claim under English law in the event of the breakdown of a Sharia marriage.
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