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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 09:33 GMT
Bigamy warning for UK Muslims
British Muslim women at prayer
Islamic marriage law is different to UK law
Muslim women in Britain may be committing bigamy because they have been given poor legal advice, a new report suggests.

The study by the University of Westminster, called Untying the Knot, found that many lawyers were unaware of key differences between Islamic and British law.

This may lead some women to unwittingly commit bigamy, in the belief they are free to remarry, the report found.


It is very important that those training to become lawyers and those already in the profession are given adequate knowledge about Muslim family law

Sonianurin Shah-Kazem
Researcher
Some Muslim women are being advised to stay in violent relationships, rather than seek a divorce, the study also suggests.

Under current laws, marriages are recognised in the UK even if the ceremony takes place overseas.

But a divorce under Islamic law is not considered sufficient in British law, and people wishing to remarry must get a document known as a decree absolute before they can do so.

Some Muslim women, badly advised by lawyers ignorant of this, are therefore committing bigamy when they remarry - an offence punishable by seven years' imprisonment.

One lawyer told the BBC that over the last two years he had intervened in a dozen cases.

In some instances, bigamy had taken place.

Trying to find the extent of the problem is likely to be the subject of a second report.

Researchers are now calling on all judges and lawyers to be given training in basic Muslim law, so people can get proper legal advice.

Sonianurin Shah-Kazemi, of the University of Westminster, said it was essential that lawyers should be made aware of crucial differences between British and Muslim law.

"It is very important that those training to become lawyers and those already in the profession are given adequate knowledge about Muslim family law, the situation of conflicts of law.

"This is very easy to do, it could just involve doing an extra lecture a week."

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