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Social Cohesion and Civil Law:
Marriage, Divorce and Religious Courts

In 2010/2011, researchers at Cardiff Law School and the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK at Cardiff University carried out a study of religious courts and tribunals across the UK. The research was funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme with an award of £79,862.

The research project addressed concerns which were raised in the aftermath of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lecture on Religious and Civil Law in 2008, which provoked an animated debate concerning the extent to which English law should accommodate religious legal systems, such as Sharia law. 

The project, ‘Social Cohesion and Civil Law: Marriage, Divorce and Religious Courts’, explored how religious law already functions alongside civil law in the area of marriage and divorce.  It examined the workings of three religious courts in detail: a Jewish Beth Din; a matrimonial tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church; and a Muslim “Shariah Council”). The project asked ‘What is the legal status of these courts?’ and ‘How do they operate in relation to marriage, divorce and remarriage?’

The project is ground-breaking in that although there had been some empirical investigations into the courts or tribunals used by particular religious traditions, no work to date has sought to compare the work of courts or tribunals of different religions and how they relate to the law of the State. The project also aims to serve as a catalyst for further interdisciplinary research.

The project began in April 2010 and ran until May 2011.

Project Team

The research team is led by Professor Gillian Douglas, an expert on family law and former Head of School at Cardiff Law School. She is joined by Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray (the Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK), Professor Norman Doe (the Director of the Centre for Law and Religion), Dr Russell Sandberg (a lecturer in law at Cardiff) and Asma Khan (a Research Associate at Cardiff Law School).


A project report is now available.

The September edition of ‘Family Law’ contains two articles that derive from the Cardiff project on religious courts and tribunals. The journal issue includes the keynote lecture given at the May symposium by the Rt Hon Lord Justice McFarlane, as well as an article by the research team which describes the main findings of the research:

Other publications include:

The research findings have also been summarised on a blog post on religious courts to the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog.


On Wednesday 18th May 2011, we held a Symposium on ‘Britain’s Religious Courts: Marriage, Divorce and Civil Law’. This Symposium discussed the key findings from the project and the wider debate concerning Britain’s religious courts. Click here to download a keynote address by The Hon. Mr Justice McFarlane

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