On 13 March 2014 the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, issued a practice note with details of how to draft “Sharia compliant” wills. Practice notes are best guidance for solicitors on specific areas of law.
The practice note includes the following:
“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised.”
“…illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs.”
We are concerned that by issuing this practice note the Law Society is legitimising (or being seen to legitimise) the distribution of assets in accordance with provisions that discriminate against women, non-Muslims, and ‘illegitimate’ and adopted children.
As a matter of law, testators can generally dispose of their assets as they wish. However, this is subject to restrictions, for example to ensure children and other dependants are provided for.
Although the Law Society’s practice note does not change the law, it does undermine, for example, the way adopted children, children born out of wedlock, and children who are deemed to be of another faith are viewed. At the very least this practice note undermines the dignity of these children; at the worst it starts to slowly undermine the legal protections rightly afforded to them.
We also express our concerns that the practice note potentially paves the way for a change in the law so that different laws of intestacy (the situation where someone dies without making a will) are applied to Muslims, or those who are deemed to be Muslims. Ultimately, this guidance contributes to the ongoing legitimisation of discriminatory Sharia law practices as alternatives to egalitarian and secular English and UK laws.
We, the undersigned, condemn the Law Society for issuing this practice note and we call on them to withdraw it without delay.