Law Society Sharia wills guidance “cannot change the law”, justice minister says

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28 July 2014

Shailesh Vara

Vara: No talks between justice secretary and Law Society

The government has refused to be drawn into the row over controversial advice from the Law Society on Sharia-compliant wills, but insisted that it “does not, and cannot, change the law”.

Justice minister Shailesh Vara told MPs: “The courts will continue to apply the law of England and Wales relating to the making of wills in exactly the same as they did before the practice note was issued.”

The Law Society practice note on Sharia succession rules and how to draft Sharia-compliant wills was published in March, triggering a storm of criticism in the media that it was endorsing Sharia law principles.

Responding to questions from Conservative MP Charles Walker, Mr Vara confirmed that justice secretary Chris Grayling had not had any discussions with the Law Society about its practice note, and that the government would not assess whether it breached equalities legislation.

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“It is not for the government to comment on the compatibility of the guidance with equalities legislation as the courts in England and Wales interpret and apply the law,” he said.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) issued guidance on will drafting in May, which ended with a reference to the controversial Law Society practice note. Earlier this month, following criticism from both the National Secular Society and the Lawyers Secular Society, the SRA removed the reference.

Mr Walker also asked about the SRA’s “endorsement” of the practice note. Mr Vara said: “The SRA has advised that its recent guidance issued on the drafting and preparation of wills relates to conduct issues concerning the drafting and preparation of wills, rather than their content.

“At the end of that guidance, reference was made and links attached to other sources of information, amongst which was a link to the practice note issued by the Law Society. The SRA advise that such references are regularly attached to their guidance and are not an endorsement of their content. The SRA advise that the reference to the Law Society practice note has now been removed from the appendix to its guidance note.”

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