SOAS-Nohoudh conference paper: Islamic Marriage and Divorce in the British Context: Do Shari`a Councils Reinforce Unacceptable Patriarchy in the Muslim Communities, Or Are They In Fact An Essential Tool In The Liberation of Muslim Women?
Islamic Marriage and Divorce in the British Context: Do Shari`a Councils Reinforce Unacceptable Patriarchy in the Muslim Communities, Or Are They In Fact An Essential Tool In The Liberation of Muslim Women?
This paper is based upon presentation given at the 2-day conference; Nohoudh Muslim Integration: Engaging with the Discourse, held at SOAS on the 5th & 6th November 2015 at the University of London.
The perspective from which I am writing this paper is as an active and long standing (currently 10 yrs) female member of the adjudicating committee of the Shari’a Council based in Birmingham’s Central Mosque (SC-BSM).
Shari’a and Shari’a Councils have regularly come under fire in the media where they have been accused of promoting Shari’a as a law which is inherently discriminatory towards women. (cf Radio 4 discussion with Baroness Cox Jan 2013).
This debate was stimulated by the lecture given by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in which he attempted to explain that certain aspects of Shari’a (referring to family law) can be accommodated within the English Legal system. This created a furore in the media some sections of which were outraged at the suggestion.
There have been a number of attempts in the media to present a picture of Sharia Councils. These include the BBC Birmingham’s Inside Out programme in 20th January 2009. This was a programme based upon the Birmingham Shari’a Council which clearly presented a woman as part of the adjudicating panel and, perhaps because of my leading role, even described me as the chair of the Council. More recent contributions include; Inside Out Bristol in 2014 and Inside Out East Midlands in 2015 and Channel Four’s production; Celebrity Divorce: Sharia style.
The recent publication of Islam and English Law – Rights, Responsibilities and the place of Shari’a (Griffiths-Jones, 2013) edited by Robin Griffiths-Jones highlighted the need for the debate on the relationship between Islam and British Law and much is discussed in that publication about Islam, the Islamic Shari’a Councils and the legal system by academics, lawyers, barristers and judges including an article by Rowan Williams clarifying his position on Shari’a and English Law. The book presented a balanced picture of the different views held within the judiciary and academia, however, the practical work perspective from the grass roots in terms of an understanding and application of Shari’a in the British context would have been a valuable addition.
The word Shari’a has created much debate in both Muslim and non-Muslim circles and seems to mean different things to different people. For students and lecturers of Shari’a courses around the world this is commonly defined as Islamic Law. Such people are also well informed about the many Islamic schools of jurisprudence normally referred to as ‘schools of thought’. For the lay person however the same term has overtones of medieval draconian punishments and misogyny.
Muslim communities in Britain who are practicing their faith want to live their lives as law abiding citizens, contributing to and benefiting from the law as equals, but at the same time they want to resolve their affairs justly in the eyes of God and this requires a faith dimension to family law that goes beyond the secular judicial processes currently in place.
We have a curious situation in Britain where there is acceptance of the need for religious marriage which has led to many larger mosques being registered to conduct state registered weddings, however when it comes to religious divorce the issue becomes highly emotive. This may be in part because of the absence of a religious divorce for Christians (with the exception of the now uncommon ‘declaration of nullity’ or annulment). The Catholic church still does not accept the concept of divorce and the Anglican church has only recently permitted those who have been divorced through the civil courts to remarry in church (subject to the agreement of the minister concerned) and neither have a concept of religious divorce.
Of course one cannot ignore the role of the state in divorce matters because of its unique authority to ensure that justice is granted in terms of the financial settlement, issues of custody and visitation rights etc.
For Muslims however both marriage and divorce are contractual agreements that are also subject to religious law and oversight. Muslim jurists have debated over the centuries concerning the secular and religious dimensions of marriage with the majority concluding that both are necessary. In the Islamic teachings any act or transaction has a religious dimension however the socio-legal contractual elements of marriage tend to obscure the religious aspect. The debate is concisely summarised by Khaled Abou El Fadl:
“If the Islamic marriage contract is not considered merely a civil contract but also a religious contract… then a civil dissolution is not sufficient and the Islamic Marriage contract should be dissolved islamically… God describes marriage as a weighty covenant taken by God from people. This leads me to believe that the rituals are not simply organizational but also sacramental…and therefore, organizational state acts are insufficient for religious purposes.” (Abou El Fadl, 2001)
Muslim family law is understood and applied differently in the various Muslim majority countries around the world. In some countries the law and its procedures may be seen to be more egalitarian while in others they are more restrictive with regard to women. For example, polygamy is prohibited in Tunisia while in Pakistan every woman has the right to demand the authority to divorce by talaq (talaq tafwid) simply by ticking a box on the state marriage contract. In spite of these positive laws certain customs and lack of Islamic knowledge concerning their rights can still inhibit women from exercising them.
In certain countries the governments have made necessary changes to grant women’s rights such as Morocco and Indonesia:
‘In the 2004 Moudawana (family law) of Morocco, spouses have mutual duties and rights, including: cohabitation, mutual fidelity, respect and affection, the preservation of the interests of the family; mutual inheritance; the wife’s assuming with the husband responsibility for managing household affairs and the children’s education; consultation on decisions concerning the management of family affairs, children and family planning; good relations with each other’s relatives.’
‘Indonesia is the country with the largest population of Muslims. Its marriage law states that the rights and responsibilities of the wife and husband are “equivalent …in the life of the household and in the social intercourse in society.” Spouses also have a duty of mutual support.’
http://muslimmarriagecontract.org/laws.html (compiled by The Muslim Institute, London)
In Britain legislators have cited this very flexibility and diversity as an obstacle to accommodating the wishes of Muslims, questioning ‘which Shari’a should be accommodated?’ and clearly there are concerns that if one interpretation of Muslim law is approved many Muslims will still be dissatisfied. Many are also very doubtful concerning the issues of gender equality however some leading lawyers and barristers are willing to discuss and explore the possible an effective compromise.
There is also a body of opinion that says that to accommodate differing religious beliefs as has been done in non-Muslim countries such as India and Israel creates a two tier system which undermines the principal of equality under the law. (Both India and Israel have Shari’a Courts embedded in the state legal systems.) In Greece too, the state has appointed a mufti for their Muslim minority in Thrace.
Despite the aforementioned concerns many Muslim women in Britain see the Shari’a Councils as their only option for divorce because their marriage was never registered with the state and is therefore not formally recognised and among those whose marriages were registered many believe that their marriage must be dissolved through both the civil courts and using a Sharia Council.
Attacks on the UK Shari’a Councils have also come from academics and women’s rights groups. Shaheen Sardar Ali provides a typical example:
“…the Shari’a Councils are all male organisation whose members are in the eyes of Muslim women a group of ‘strangers’. Further, a woman who is desperate to be acknowledged as an ‘Islamically’ divorced woman is at the mercy of the husband and the negotiating powers of the Shari’a Council. She has to pay a fee to initiate her case and the negotiation may end up demanding money or other privileges in return for the husband declaring Talaq in the presence of the Shari’a Council. If the erstwhile husband refuses to be persuaded to pronounce the Talaq, there is nothing that the Shari’a Council can do to force him to do so. Finally, the Shari’a Councils, in ‘difficult’ cases, usually make the women ‘opt’ for khula which means giving up her mehr in return for the dissolution of the marriage.” (Griffiths-Jones, 2013, p. 173)
This does not give an accurate picture in terms of both Islamic jurisprudence and the actual functioning of the Birmingham Shariah Council’s panel. While it may be observed that some qualifying footnotes were attached, the overwhelming impression is very strongly critical and reflects more the fears of the uninformed than the reality I can speak to. A much more balanced and informed understanding and thorough debate is given by Maleiha Malik in her book Minority Legal Orders in the UK: Minorities Pluralism and the Law, who argues that ‘a liberal democracy such as the UK has a responsibility to consider the rights and needs of those from minority groups who want to make legal decisions in tune with their culture and beliefs; it also has a responsibility to protect those ‘minorities within minorities’ who are vulnerable to pressure to comply with the norms of their social group.’ (Malik, 2012)
The Workings of SC-BCM – Separating Fact from Fiction
Far from being a tool to perpetuate the oppression of Muslim women through the perpetuation of some archaic practices of Islamic Law, Birmingham Shariah Council was established as a voluntary service to address a sorely felt need and an urgent and a real problem; that women suffering in dysfunctional or abusive relationships had no means of terminating their marriages that would satisfy them or their families or the wider Muslim community and allow them to seek a wholesome and fulfilling family life with a new partner. In the terms of the Islamic sciences it was set up to fulfil a collective responsibility (fard kifiyyah) of the Muslim community that is essential for the protection of women’s rights under the juristic concept of Durrura (a need). The Council was never intended to provide a ‘parallel system of justice’ as has been alleged but to fulfil a dire need that through their secular nature the civil courts will never be able to address.
A brief understanding of Shari’a follows:
‘Then we put thee on the (right) Way (Shari’a) of Religion: so follow thou that (Way), and follow not the capricious desires (hawa) of those who know not.’ Qur’an 45:18
‘Who is more misguided than the one who follows his capricious desires (hawa) and neglects the guidance of God’ Qur’an 28:50
Hashim Kamali (Kamali, 2008) explains the above and other similar verses saying:
Shari’ah is used in the Qur’an in contradistinction to hawa, or caprice, especially of those who have no knowledge. Hawa thus stands at the opposite pole (to) Shari’ah, and the latter is designed to discipline the former and tell the believer that his conduct in society cannot be left to the vagaries of hawa. Hawa is tantamount to lawlessness and deviation from the correct guidance.
The emphasis is thus on doing things out of knowledge and understanding following guidance provided in the Qur’an and Sunnah (prophetic practice) where possible and using the rational faculties God has provided human beings with and not out of ignorance or by blindly following others who are ignorant.
Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom God has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding. Qur’an(39:18)
The higher objectives of Shari’a described by Jasser Auda in his Maqasid Al-Shariah As Philosophy of Law (Auda, 2008) as the Preservation of Faith, Soul, Wealth, Mind, Offspring & Honour must be met in any form of jurisprudence. I therefore understand sharia as expressed by the classical scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim (d748AH/1347CE):
“Verily, the Sharia is founded upon wisdom and welfare for the servants in this life and the afterlife. In its entirety it is justice, mercy, benefit, and wisdom. Every matter which abandons justice for tyranny, mercy for cruelty, benefit for corruption, and wisdom for foolishness is not a part of the Shari’a even if it was introduced therein by an interpretation.” (I’lam Al-Muwaqqi’in ‘an Rabb Al-Alamin)
The ultimate objective is thus that the law becomes a source of mercy for humanity. Shari’a is not the law itself but rather divine guidance that has to be understood on any particular topic and not in isolation to the rest of the Qur’anic teachings. Fiqh (jurisprudence) is the derived understanding of this divine message or as Ibn Khaldun puts it:
“knowledge of the rules of God which concern the actions of persons who own themselves bound to obey the law respecting what is required (wajib), forbidden (haraam), recommended (mandūb), disapproved (makruh) or merely permitted (mubah).” (Levy, 1957, p. 150)
The Quran and Sunnah are the main textual sources of Shari’a and these are then augmented with intellectual reasoning in the form of Ijtihad (the intellectual endeavour on part of the scholar / jurist to arrive at a satisfactory solution to a problem using and remaining true to the principal sources). Ijitihad may consist of Ijma (majority consensus), Qiyas (Analogy), istihsan (juristic preference), etc. The Shari’a has thus always evolved to suit the society in which scholars sought to apply it. Only insecurity and a lack of knowledge has led some literalists to demand that only the early understandings and literal meanings of the source texts can be accepted without twentieth century British contextualisation.
These principles and the Muslim scholar’s failure to apply them adequately thus far in the UK is highlighted in the Cambridge University publication by Yasir Suleiman Contextualising Islam in Britain:
It is not appropriate that verses from the Qur’an should be used to control and dominate women and to deny them access to the public arena. Part of the solution is in hermeneutics: how to read texts, and understand them properly in the modern context. Unfortunately however, some Muslims give too much weight to cultural traditions and have not been able to contextualize early Muslim teachings for changing times. (Suleiman, 2009)
At Birmingham Shariah Council however there has not been the stasis and intransigence that perhaps may have affected some of the other Councils more. We do not feel obliged to imitate the views which are entrenched in historical jurisprudence or even apply blindly the development of jurisprudence taking place in the Muslim world. At the same time, we are enriched by learning the methodological principals and in-depth understanding of all scholars both past and present who found ways to apply the principles of Shari’a in their unique context.
In Britain, one of the foremost fears that people have is the concern that under any system of Islamic jurisprudence women may not be treated equally or fairly in marriage and divorce.
The lack of understanding by the majority of people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that textual sources of Islam are embedded in a historical context and that extracting the principles from those sources requires the knowledge of the Qur’anic Sciences and the Science of Hadith raises such fears as mentioned above. Too often extremist views have been propagated by lay people who believe they have understood the Shari’a by merely reading the text of the Qur’an or Hadith.
The Birmingham Sharia Council was the first one in the UK to appoint woman to its adjudicating panel and other councils have since followed their lead. This has come as a surprise to many who believed Shari’a to be inherently archaic and discriminatory towards women, a view formerly fed by the presence of all male panels up until that time. In doing this SC-BCM has made a bold statement showing that women are not merely victims to be judged and adjudicated upon but that they have the same rights to be a part of the judicial process both in theory and in practice. In fact there is a gender mix in the entire organisation of the Birmingham Shari’a Council. American Academic Professor John Bowen visited SC-BCM as a part of his research in the UK and in the book he subsequently published; Blaming Islam (Bowen, 2012) he highlights the dominant role that women play in the SC-BCM.
This is not however the only aspect of gender equality in their procedures. At SC-BCM all applicants, whether male or female are treated the same on the basis that the principle of human equality is found in the Qur’an itself. The same fee is charged for the council’s service regardless of the gender of the applicant. Historically women were much more dependent on their husbands to be provided for and this may be the origin of some juristic opinions that suggest they should be treated as dependants however we have recognised that in our modern society women are and deserve to be treated as independent individuals who are equal in the eyes of the law.
Following this approach, at SC-BCM both a man and a woman can initiate the process of divorce. Men may initiate through Talaq and women through khulla. The difference between these two processes is linked to the necessary provision of a bridal gift or mehr at the time of the marriage. This can be very substantial so under Islamic law if the husband chooses to divorce his wife he has no authority to ask for its return, however if the wife wants to divorce him she may be required, in the case of a no fault divorce for instance, to return some or all of the mehr. In both cases the two parties have the potential to come to some form of agreement. Both parties are offered counselling through a reconciliation clinic (a crucial element in any Islamic divorce process as divorce is regarded as the least liked of any lawful act). Should one party or the other refuse to take part in the reconciliation process or should the couple find themselves unable to come to any agreement themselves the case is moved forward to the Shari’a panel. The panel may decide that it should be handled as a case of khul (divorce initiated by the wife), talaq (divorce initiated by the husband), tafriq (dissolution by the panel) or Faskh (annulment). Judith E Tucker provides a useful discussion on the reform of divorce in her book Women, Family and Gender in Islamic Law (Tucker, 2008, p. 113).
With regard to any financial burden on women claimed by some, should the husband choose to initiate the divorce by talaq he cannot demand any financial recompense from his wife. It is also incorrect to assert that in the case of a khulla divorce initiated by a woman she will be required to return the bridal gift or mehr as this would only be the case where no blame whatsoever is placed on the husband which is rare. Despite this the panel does not generally use either of these mechanisms but dissolves most marriages using tafriq (dissolution) which removes from either party the burden of being seen as the instigator of the process. Divorce while lawful in Shari’a is considered the most disliked of all lawful acts so few men or women want to be seen as the destroyer of the marriage in front of their families. This is a view that has often been expressed to us. Tafriq is also more practical for a voluntary body with no statutory authority as, unlike courts in Muslim countries, they have no power to coerce the husband into agreeing to a khulla divorce. In the case of a forced marriage where it can be reliably determined that the marriage was invalid (coercion/deception is forbidden in marriage according to all schools of thought) the marriage is dissolved by faskh (annulment).
The panel of adjudicators at Birmingham Shari’a Council is diverse, reflecting the diversity in the community. There are traditionally trained jurists, academics and those with extensive community experience. All however must be knowledgeable in the Islamic sciences, have some knowledge of English family law and be experienced in Muslim family law. The people should be of good character and able to uphold Islamic moral values and be people of humility and compassion. The panel is then well able to discuss the particular case with the parties concerned considering all the relevant juristic opinions to ensure all those involved are heard and that as far as is possible the adjudication is accepted by both parties if both parties are involved in the process. Most panellists are also able to converse fluently in a number of community languages. This enables them to better serve the diverse Muslim communities including English, Indian, Pakistani, Yemeni, Bangladeshi, Sudanese etc.
In addition to the principal role of deciding on issues of divorce, the council’s role also involves educating people about the Islamic teachings, combatting the religious illiteracy that is so rife in the community, and guiding them to be fair, just and kind. They also make efforts to persuade couples that from a sharia perspective they should register their marriages as without the protection of the state one of the principle objectives of the nikah or marriage contract remains unfulfilled which is the protection of the rights of the wife and children from abuse, neglect and abandonment. Birmingham Central Mosque has taken a lead in promoting the registration of marriages for many years and all marriages arranged through the Mosque are formally registered.
One common perception that the panel has to address on a regular basis is the notion that, similarly to Orthodox Judaism, the husband has to give his consent for a divorce to take place. In the Jewish community this led to the issue of chained women who had acquired a civil divorce but in their eyes and the eyes of the community were unable to remarry as they could not secure a religious divorce. Provision was thus made in British Law to delay the issue of a civil divorce until the husband had also given a religious divorce. (Religious Marriages Act 2002). It was proposed by the judiciary that this could be extended to the Muslim community, but this was refused because under Islamic law the councils do not need the husband’s permission to dissolve the marriage and it was felt that a change in law here could reinforce the popular misconception and that the husband may feel unduly empowered. Under the Shari’a no one can be legally coerced into either marrying or remaining married regardless of whether the relationship is merely dysfunctional or actually abusive.
The interaction between British Law and the Jewish law (halakha) has however established a precedent that may have great significance for a potentially greater role to be played by UK Shari’a councils. In 2013 a divorce settlement was reached in the case of AI v MT presided over by Justice Baker in which he considered and agreed to a request by the parties to refer all issues, including those relating to the financial settlement, the status of the parties marriage and the care and parenting of their children, to arbitration (at the date of the order in February 2010, there was no precedent for referring a matrimonial case for arbitration) by a Jewish religious court, in this case the New York Beth Din. It was made clear that one of the key reasons for the Justice to agree to this was the well documented plight of the Agunah or chained women in the UK. (Women who are divorced in English Law but have not been granted a ‘get’ by their husbands and who therefore in their eyes and those of the community are not properly divorced and cannot therefore remarry. The most important precedent set by this case was the idea that religious traditions relating to financial settlements and custody guidelines could, where desired by both parties, impact the decision of a British court when given the authority of an opinion expressed by established religious legal body. If a Beth Din court can be used to guide a court in the case of a Jewish couple, then there should be no barrier to a Shari’a council guiding a court in the case of a Muslim couple.
The clients the Shari’a Council services come from a wide range of backgrounds and the underlying issues are equally varied. Some have had arranged marriages, some love marriages with or without the support of the family. Some have been the victims of forced marriages and others have either knowingly or otherwise been involved in polygamous marriages.
Polygamy has often been highlighted as a major point of departure between British Law and Islamic jurisprudence and it has been asserted that women need to be protected from the institution of polygamy. The reality as it has been revealed through the work of the sharia councils, is that the current prohibition of polygamy serves only to remove any possibility of state support for the women. As long as the law forbidding bigamy remains, it is lawful for a man to have multiple wives through nikah only they are unable to take legal responsibility for them and their offspring through registering the marriages, and in fact would be prosecuted if they tried. Monogamy is the norm in all Muslim communities however it is considered by many to be a necessary provision. It may even be that a regulated provision for polygamy would reduce the incidence of these marriages though supporting registration as the norm whilst preventing its inappropriate use. The restriction of polygamy is currently practiced in a number of Muslim countries including Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan for example.
Another area of concern is regarding the influence of Shari’a Councils on any financial settlement or custody arrangement. Birmingham Shariah Council recognises that it has no authority to make any binding judgements in these matters. In my experience it is interesting to note that contrary to the very public battles we read about most women do not want anything from their partner, the dissolution of the marriage is all that they are concerned about so that they are free to get on with their lives. Some have actually come to the hearings with all their marriage money and jewellery prepared to return it all should that be required however in terms of the guidance that is given to the two parties the bridal gift or mehr is not generally asked for from the wife before the marriage is dissolved. If there is any dispute over the divorce settlement in terms of money, maintenance or the custody of any children then the couple are referred to the civil courts. The panel does advise both parties to strive to be generous towards the other as this is the Qur’anic teaching of good character.
The progress that has been made at Birmingham Shariah Council was witnessed by Baroness Cox’s representative when she visited in connection with research she was carrying out. At the Panel Discussion and Book Launch for Islam and English Law (The Temple Church, London) the baroness spoke to me saying that she had heard ‘good things’ about Birmingham Shariah Council.
Looking to the Future: English Law and Muslim Family Law
Being a minority community is always challenging, even in a liberal secular society and even if you are culturally indigenous. My husband is from a Quaker family and I am very well aware of the history of the Quakers in Britain and how they have historically been persecuted for wanting to live their lives according to their interpretation of God’s will. The Muslim community, while relatively new members of the British multicultural society, still has members who are culturally very British yet they are struggling to balance their religious beliefs with the legal systems of the country.
The acceptance of unregistered marriages has created a major problem in the context of divorce. Since the decriminalisation of adultery it has been difficult to coerce couples into formally registering their marriages but without that registration the rights of women cannot be enforced by the state. In Morocco many marriages have been registered since this was made a requirement for the children of any couple to be admitted to government schools (Herraz, 2013), but such an approach would not be possible in the UK where all forms of relationship are legal and anything that might stigmatise the children of unregistered marriages would rightly be challenged.
Some critics of the Shari’a Councils have asserted that Muslims should simply ensure that their marriages are registered with the state and that this would remove any need for the Shari’a Councils however this view neglects two key facts: That the majority of Muslims regard marriage as a religious covenant requiring a ‘religious’ termination that the state cannot provide, and that even if from 2015 every marriage conducted was registered there would still be thousands of unregistered marriages many of which will sadly require termination at some point in the future.
For some people religious laws are for the private realm and for others they are tools to be used in a utopian society however Shari’a like English Law has always been there to protect the population in the real world from the mistakes and misdeeds of members of its community. No amount of theorising can change the situation we currently find ourselves in, only practical actions will affect the genuinely difficult circumstances that some women in particular find themselves in. Shari’a Councils were established solely for that purpose, as a service to vulnerable members of the Muslim community and the need for them will be maintained for the foreseeable future. If the Shari’a Councils are not allowed to continue their work the result will be great injustice and oppression for hundreds or even thousands of British Muslim women.
This does not of course mean that there is not scope for improvement of the way Shari’a Councils work. Birmingham Shariah Council was established more than 20 years ago and in that time it has led the way in many areas of good practice; from the marriage counselling service to the inclusion of women in every area including the adjudicating panel. It is my hope that it will continue to develop in harmony with the British Legal system to support rather than compete with their work and so increase the number of people able to access justice in their family disputes. The recently established UK Board of Sharia Councils, an initiative established to improve and standardise the services provided by the Shariah Councils as well as to enhance the training of panel members further lends hope that what good practice is established can be exported around the country and ultimately become the norm.
What we need now is to agree a road map for future development of the Shari’a Councils to ensure they become ever more valuable and ever more in tune with British life and culture. Measures that I would like to see to this end would be the wider establishment of marriage reconciliation services attached to all Shari’a Councils with trained professional Islamic counsellors servicing them. I would like to see basic standards of education and experience laid down for adjudication panellists that include training in British Law, gender issues, Ijtihad and the understanding of the principle of Maqasid As Shari’a – the higher objectives of Islamic Law that can mean the suspension or overturning of an accepted norm to suit a new context.
I believe that Shari’a Councils, Beth Dins, and Tribunals, religious or otherwise, are essential to extend support to those citizens whose relationships fall outside of the British legal framework. In addition, by working within our legal system they can help and support the Family Law Courts which have been described by some barristers and judges as being overloaded and “on the brink of collapse”. In a liberal democracy which lauds the value of choice a constructive partnership between these bodies can enable British Citizens of all faiths and none to live their lives according to their chosen faith or norms. The dialogue has begun and we still have a great deal of work to do in terms of research, dialogue, debate and regulation, to promote and facilitate a more cohesive and fair system, which works within the boundaries of human dignity and equality and enables all, and particularly vulnerable women, to access justice, whichever route they may choose to follow.
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