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Headlines are used to arrest attention, but can often be misleading. The Independent gasped that ‘Islamic law to be enshrined in British law as solicitors get guidelines on ‘Sharia complaint’ wills’; the Huffington Post groaned that ‘Islamic Sharia Law Effectively Enshrined in UK Legal System With New Will Guidance’; the Daily Mail wailed that ‘Sharia law to be enshrined in British legal system as lawyers get guidelines on drawing up documents to Islamic rules’; and the Metro, the only national newspaper that is free but still overpriced, complained that ‘Islamic legal principles to be integrated into UK law for first time’.
Amongst these headlines, the common phrase is that Islamic laws are to be “enshrined”, “effectively enshrined” or “integrated” within our legal system. There is no “enshrinement”: the law of these lands has not changed by a single letter in regard to wills. Instead, the Law Society has issued advice on meeting the requirements of Sharia succession rules within the British legal systems. Lawyers receiving guidance is not synonymous with the law being changed, or with principles being adopted.
The Sharia succession rules require that: first, all debts, including the cost of burial, are paid; second, up to a third of the remaining estate may be given to charity or other non-obligatory heirs; third, the remainder is divided between ‘primary’ and ‘residual’ heirs. In the event that dependant adults or family members do not believe they have an adequate financial provision, the Inheritance Act 1975 allows those persons to challenge the will in court, in order to obtain a greater inheritance. This Act applies to all wills.
The Law Society’s practice note states:
Provided the will is signed in accordance with the requirement set out in the Wills Act 1837, there is nothing to prevent an English domiciled person choosing to dispose of their assets in accordance with Sharia succession rules (subject to any potential claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which only applies where the deceased died domiciled in England and Wales).
In their last will and testament, the deceased may distribute their wealth and assets in a manner ‘compliant’ with any number of belief systems. The content of that will is a matter for the deceased individual. You may write to leave your entire estate to the Bath Cats and Dogs Home, the Rainbow Centre for Children, or any other charity. You may request that your bequest goes to whichever political parties form the government of the day. You may compose a will compliant with, or a fusion thereof, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, secular humanism, or the ancient Egyptian worship of cats.
This guidance ensures that these wills are compliant with the current law. This does not amount to an enshrinement.