The Telegraph’s alarmist reporting once again puts Sharia law in the spotlight. An utterance of this phrase guarantees a level of indignation in some corners. But in this context, is such indignation justified?
In short, it is not. A careful reading of the story demolishes the headline, “Islamic law is adopted by British legal chiefs.” Yes, the Law Society drafted guidance for solicitors on this issue, but it remains just that, guidance (nor legal advice.)
As it states:
“Practice notes are issued by the Law Society for the use and benefit of its members. They represent the Law Society’s view of good practice in a particular area. They are not intended to be the only standard of good practice that solicitors can follow. You are not required to follow them, but doing so will make it easier to account to oversight bodies for your actions.
Practice notes are not legal advice, nor do they necessarily provide a defence to complaints of misconduct or of inadequate professional service. While care has been taken to ensure that they are accurate, up to date and useful, the Law Society will not accept any legal liability in relation to them.”
So for the Telegraph to claim that Islamic law is “effectively enshrined” in the British legal system is a dangerous falsehood. An accompanying editorial lambasted the practice as ‘anti-women’ and incompatible with British values of fairness and decency.
Rather interestingly, it goes on to assert that the British legal system “has its roots in Judaeo-Christian morality.” This othering of Islam positions it as incompatible with Britain, which is deeply Islamophobic and exclusionary to the millions of British Muslims who peacefully observe their faith.
Other newspapers repeat this falsehood, the Daily Mail claimed, “Sharia Law to be enshrined in British legal system,” as the Express labelled the development ‘deeply disturbing.’
Both Baroness Cox (who invited Geert Wilders to the UK) and the National Secular Society are quoted heavily and oppose the measure. Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society, is directly quoted near the bottom of the Mail article but such quotes are notably absent in the Metro, Express, Telegraph, and ITV.
When context is substituted for sensationalism, the story takes on a life of its own across various social media platforms. The original Telegraph piece has over 10,000 shares on Facebook alone. In comparison, both the Mail and Metro articles received thousands of shares.
Poor journalism helps reinvigorate the far-right and other Islamophobic groups as it provides evidence to support their anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
For Fiyaz Mughal, of TELL MAMA, more care is needed when reporting such stories: “the accuracy of reporting rather than spin is fundamental to ensuring that the facts are provided to members of the public. We all value a free and fair press who have a right to probe into areas of public interest. What we don’t want is reporting that is inaccurate, driven by journalists trying to find facts to fit their pre-conceived notions on faith communities, stories that are not only inaccurate, but sometimes just untrue and which play on the fears of people. All that does it to further re-enforce Far Right extremist positions and isolate Muslim communities as a whole who are caricatured as some malign block of people intent on Islamicising Britain. That is far from the truth.”