By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor / Telegraph
The Law Society has withdrawn controversial guidelines for solicitors on how to compile “Sharia compliant” wills amid complaints that they encouraged discrimination against women and non-Muslims.
Andrew Caplen, president of the society, apologised and said the criticism had been taken on board.
It follows a storm of protest after The Telegraph disclosed in March that the society had issued a practice note to solicitors effectively enshrining aspects of Islamic law in the British legal system.
The guidelines advised High Street solicitors on how to write Islamic wills in a way that would be recognised by courts in England and Wales.
They set out principles which meant that women could be denied an equal share of inheritances while unbelievers could be excluded altogether.
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The document also detailed how children born out of wedlock might not be counted as legitimate heirs.
Mr Caplen’s predecessor as president, Nicholas Fluck, strongly resisted criticism of the guidelines when details were published in March.
But in a short statement the society said it now had decided to withdraw them in light of “feedback” from the public and lawyers themselves.
“Our practice note was intended to support members to better serve their clients as far as is allowed by the law of England and Wales,” said Mr Caplen.
“We reviewed the note in the light of criticism.
“We have withdrawn the note and we are sorry.”
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, who campaigned for the guidelines to be withdrawn, said: “This is an important reverse for what had seemed to be the relentless march of sharia to becoming de facto British law.
“Until now, politicians and the legal establishment either encouraged this process or spinelessly recoiled from acknowledging what was happening.
“I congratulate the Law Society for heeding the objections we and others made.
“This is particularly good news for women who fare so badly under sharia law, which is non-democratically determined, non-human rights compliant and discriminatory code.”
Sadikur Rahman, a leading member of the Lawyers’ Secular Society, who was among the first to raise concerns about the practice note, praised the Law Society as a rare example of a major organisation publicly changing its mind.
“The language that they have chosen to use today is quite astonishing for an organisation that only a few months ago was resistant to change at all,” he said.
He added that it was a vindication for those who were accused of racism or being anti-Muslim for questioning the wisdom of original practice note.
“You should be able to criticise an ideology, that should not be taken as racism,” he said.
He added: “As far as the public is concerned the Law Society represents all lawyers in England and Wales.
“The practice notes might just be guidance but they tell us how our firms should practise, if you didn’t follow the guidance issued by the Law Society on a particular point you might be deemed to negligent.
“They carry a huge amount of weight and it would be seen as an endorsement.
“I certainly heard from Muslim lawyers congratulating the Law Society for having issued it, the way they saw it was that the Law Society had come on board with sharia law.”