Islamic sharia law courts in Britain are exploiting a little-known legal clause to make their verdicts officially binding under UK law in cases including divorce, financial disputes and even domestic violence.
A new network of courts in five major cities is hearing cases where Muslims involved agree to be bound by traditional sharia law, and under the 1996 Arbitration Act the court's decisions can then be enforced by the county courts or the High Court.
Officials behind the new system claim to have dealt with more than 100 cases since last summer, including six involving domestic violence which is a criminal rather than civil offence, and said they hoped to take over growing numbers of 'smaller' criminal cases in future.
There's nothing wrong with having private systems of law of course. As long as everyone using them is doing so voluntarily they're a fine idea. But the danger is when two further things happen: firstly, that people who are not using them voluntarily get forced to do so and secondly, when the real courts of law get used to enforce the judgements of these private courts.
At the moment we've no evidence of the first of these happening but that second definitely is.
Are we sure this is something we want to see continue?