Last updated at 10:46 PM on 29th July 2011
Ministers have abandoned an inquiry into the rise of secretive Sharia councils that deal in Islamic justice – because the Muslim courts refused to help.
The failure of the Ministry of Justice probe has generated new fears among politicians and pressure groups about the increasing influence of Sharia courts.
They are worried the courts’ decisions may run against the law of the land, particularly in divorce settlements for women.
The scrapping of the inquiry comes in a week when Islamic extremists have launched a campaign to declare ‘Sharia-controlled zones’ across Britain.
Hate preacher Anjem Choudary has claimed responsibility for the scheme, which has so far seen posters put on lampposts in several London boroughs declaring that within the ‘zones’ there should be ‘no gambling’, ‘no music or concerts’, ‘no porn or prostitution’, ‘no drugs or smoking’ and ‘no alcohol’.
The Daily Mail has previously published photographs of Choudary in his student days breaking all but one of the zone laws – holding a cannabis joint, downing a pint of cider, playing cards and leering at porn.
But the abandonment of the Government’s Sharia inquiry has fuelled fears that such radicals will be able to continue their intimidating activities unchecked.
The Ministry of Justice had launched an inquiry into the operation of Sharia courts in Britain because of rising fears that the secretive system has undue influence.
The number of Sharia courts here is unknown, although an estimate of 85 made by the Civitas think-tank in 2009 is widely accepted.
The failure of the Government’s investigation was disclosed to MPs by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly.
He told Tory backbencher Kris Hopkins that before last year’s general election his department acted to ‘commission an exploratory study of Sharia councils in England with respect to family law’.
Mr Djanogly said: ‘This identified a number of challenges to undertaking robust research in this area. The study was therefore limited and adds little to the evidence base.
‘The findings cannot be regarded as a representative assessment of the operation of Sharia councils. Following expert peer review of the draft report, the Ministry of Justice decided not to publish the findings.’
A further statement to the Mail made it clear the ‘challenges’ researchers experienced boiled down to the Sharia courts failing to co-operate.
The Ministry of Justice said: ‘The report was essentially an exploratory study which identified a number of challenges to undertaking more robust research.
‘The challenges to undertaking more robust research were that the councils are generally run on a volunteer basis, were short staffed and very busy, so there were practical difficulties in speaking with respondents.
‘There was also reluctance to discuss the private work of the councils and respondents were wary of the stereotypical ways in which their organisations were represented in the media.’
Sharia law is also under scrutiny in the Lords, where the independent peer Baroness Cox has tabled a Bill seeking to make it a crime for anyone to take over the rights of the state’s criminal or family courts.