First, we saw the legalisation of same sex marriage and soon, the law books will be rewritten to abolish the fault-based divorce system. Whether we like it or not, it appears that our laws are evolving in accordance with changes in society.
However, the same can’t be said in relation to the Court of Appeal’s latest ruling that marriages in Sharia law are not valid in England and Wales. Whilst Christianity remains the most followed religion in the UK, followers of the Islamic faith are on the rise. So why is it that our courts will not recognise a marriage ceremony in Sharia law, while one taking place in the Christian church down the road is valid?
The case of Akhter and Khan concerns a couple who married in an Islamic ceremony (a Nikah) at a London restaurant in 1998. Fast forward to 2016 when the parties separated and Mrs Akhter petitioned for divorce. Mr Khan argued that she couldn’t divorce him as they weren’t legally married.
At her first bite of the cherry, Mrs Akhter successfully argued that their Islamic faith marriage and therefore her subsequent divorce petition were valid, opening the door to a financial remedy application under the Matrimonial Causes Act. The High Court judge who made that initial ruling said that the couple had held themselves out to be husband and wife and that their vows had the hallmarks of a legally recognised marriage ceremony, such as the fact that it was held in public, witnessed, officiated, involved the making of promises and both parties were eligible to marry. The Judge also took into account the fact that there were children.
However, the Court of Appeal on Friday overturned that decision and said that a marriage under Sharia law alone does not constitute a valid marriage. A key element of the appeal judge’s decision was that the parties had actually intended to have a later civil ceremony and had therefore recognised that their marriage was not in fact a legal one.