Mother facing separation from her son under Shari’a law granted refuge by Law Lords

22 October 2008

The human rights group Liberty argued that the mother’s right to a family life and to gender equality require that she not be returned to Lebanon, where her ex-husband would automatically be granted full custody rights over her son under Shari’a law.

Liberty’s Legal Director James Welch, who intervened in the case, said:

“How can the government speak of equal treatment in one breath and seek to deport mother and child to face separation under Shari’a law in another? The Law Lords have rightly upheld basic protections which must be available to us all.”

The mother, “EM”, arrived in the United Kingdom in December 2004 with her son, who was born in July 1996, and claimed asylum. She had obtained a divorce from her allegedly violent husband, who reportedly ended her first pregnancy by hitting her in the stomach with a heavy vase, in the Islamic court in Lebanon and had been awarded physical custody of her son until his seventh birthday. According to the prevailing Shari’a law, after that date she would lose physical custody, which would be awarded to her husband and his family. Because she did not want to be bound by that law, she left Lebanon with her son on false documents. Following the refusal of her claim for asylum in the UK, she and her son faced expulsion to Lebanon.

In an intervention heard by the Law Lords on 21 July 2008, Liberty and Justice argued that the automatic and permanent separation of a mother from her child under Shari’a law, following her expulsion to Lebanon, amounts to a flagrant breach of the mother’s (and child’s) rights under the European Convention on Human Rights - Article 8, the right to a family life, and Article 14, which prohibits discrimination.

“EM” appealed to the Law Lords to determine that in this “foreign” case (in which the act of a government removing a person from its territories would lead to that person’s human rights being violated in the territory to which she has been sent) her right to a family life would be so severely violated that she should be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom.

Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3 831 128

Notes to Editors

1. The Law Lords decision in EM (Lebanon) and the Secretary of State for the Home Department and AF and Justice and Liberty was handed down on 22 October 2008. 

2. The contention that, if returned to the Lebanon, EM would automatically lose custody of her child is not in dispute. A written report by an expert in Islamic law and customs relating to marriage, divorce and child custody confirmed that, in accordance with the principle of Islamic law that “the male is seen as the leader of the family unit”, legal custody of a child lies with the father. In recognition of “the infant’s need for female care” physical custody is given to the mother until the age of custodial transfer, generally set at the age of seven, but thereafter reverts automatically to the father.