The Telegraph reports:
Five sharia courts have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester and Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The government has quietly sanctioned that their rulings are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court. Previously, the rulings were not binding and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.
Unlike the UK’s civil court system, the so-called shariah courts derive their power from the consent of those who voluntarily seek their judgement or arbitration.
The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.
Shariah courts and shariah law would thus become one of several competing private systems of dispute resolution; systems into which people or organisations might choose to ‘opt in’ when forming contracts with one another or in the event of a dispute. A couple might decide, for example, when formulating their marriage contract, to have any disputes judged according to Islamic law or two people forming a business contract might decide that they wish for any disputes to be judged in strict accordance to the Law of Star Trek. The basis upon which disputes are resolved is irrelevant.
As Bryan Caplan explains in his excellent thesis on the subject of private law:
Many of the faults of the public courts would not exist (or would be less severe) under private arbitration. Private courts could raise fees to efficiently ration judicial services. They could experiment with indemnification rules to reduce their clients’ expected legal costs. Firms might offer various methods to restrain joint legal costs (by, for example, prohibiting or limiting the use of lawyers). They could limit or eliminate appeals. Each of these problems seems difficult for the public courts to manage: partly for political reasons, but also because public monopolies have little ability to recognize entrepreneurial opportunities.
Consider some further advantages. One characteristic of private supply is that it recognizes that consumer have different needs; and since many suppliers can survive in an industry simultaneously, it is possible for them to sell a wide variety of services side by side. Some parties prefer swift decisions at the cost of lower accuracy — the member banks of the VISA corporation, for example, realize that errors will even out in the end, but that adjudication costs increase with each dispute. VISA consequently has a system of rough but swift justice. Other conflicts — for example, over isolated contracts between strangers — require a more thorough investigation. Public courts have a systematic bias toward excessively slow resolution; but even if the courts were right on average, they would still ignore the fact that litigants’ preferences vary.
The most impressive arguments for privatizing dispute resolution have little to do with the unique attributes of the adjudication industry; rather, they are the standard arguments for the prima facie superiority of private to public supply. Namely: (1) Public bodies have no incentive to be efficient, and private ones do; and (2) Public bodies usually don’t know what is efficient, while private bodies, though not omniscient, know better.