Minority legal orders in the UK: minorities, pluralism and the law

by Maleiha Malik

Number of pages


Minority legal orders - the systemic, distinct, religious or cultural norms of groups such as Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others - are often misleadingly described as ‘parallel legal systems’. Since 9/11 and 7/7 they have been mainly discussed in the context of Islam and sharia law, and more often than not as an ominous threat to UK liberal democracy.

This publication 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.

This publication discusses the origins of minority legal orders in the UK and defines what constitutes a minority legal order in a liberal democracy. Finally, the overview explores the advantages and disadvantages of the practical ways in which the state can respond to and work with minority legal orders in the UK, and identifies the gaps in the research around them.

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