Dr Ahmad al-Dubayan, chairman of the UK Board of Sharia Councils - a body set up to standardise the administration of Islamic law - said the pervasive and uncontrolled bodies "may be hidden in the basement or somewhere".
The self-appointed courts are performing marriages and handing out divorces, Dr al-Dubayan told the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday at the launch of an inquiry into Sharia councils.
Although the unregulated bodies have no legal force or jurisdiction in the UK, they are regularly used by Muslim families to adjudicate on personal matters, the Committee heard.
Many courts reportedly charge for their services, with fees for divorce proceedings often higher than that of British courts.
GETTY FILE PIC
Sharia courts are pervasive across the UK
But the doctor warned the number of Sharia courts operating in Britain is unknown.
He said: ‘“We don’t know how many councils there are.
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“Some people talk about 80 or 30 or 50, I don’t know. There is no record for this and no studies, unfortunately.”
Ahmad al-Dubayan is advising the Home Affairs Select Committee on Sharia law
The inquiry will examine issues such as whether it is possible for women to receive equal treatment to men in Sharia courts.
It will hear from Islamic scholars, as well as representatives from women’s groups and domestic violence victim support groups.
But Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, who was forced into marriage at the age of 15, claimed Sharia courts are vital for Muslim women in abusive relationships.
The committee heard that between 30 and 40 percent of Muslim marriages are not legally recognised under British law, meaning that women trapped in dysfunctional marriages cannot apply for a divorce from British courts.
Ms Shah said: “There are issues with Sharia councils, usually they’re under-resourced, there’s not that professional standard.
“What we need to be doing is supporting the Sharia councils.
She described them as a “complimentary arbitration service” adding: ”Sharia councils sometimes are last resorts, where people have lost legal aid, we’ve had austerity kicking in and the courts don’t want to deal with small disputes.”
Dr al-Dubayan said he could think of only two or three cases which had been unfair to women out of “hundreds” handled by Sharia councils.
The Select Committee heard that if Sharia courts are banned, backstreet courts will continue to operate but will slip even further under the radar.
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