Camilla Choudhury- Khawaja was Called to the Bar in 1998 by the Honourable Society of Grays’ Inn, following in the footsteps of both her Grandfather and Father. Camilla is a practising barrister with a specialist practice in matrimonial nance and Islamic Law.
The Women’s Lawyer, established in 2012, was a result of having been through a di cult divorce myself and experiencing the legal system from a wholly different perspective. I came to appreciate constant support in the form of one lawyer who would know my case back to front and would be with me from beginning to end was exactly what was amiss; meeting Counsel for the first time on the day of the Hearing was unnerving and highlighted exactly where I could make a difference professionally.
It was extremely difficult to leave an employed role and the certainty of income to take a risk or rather a leap of faith and start up alone but that is exactly what I did – the journey to becoming a sole practitioner was a tough one but one that I am proud of every single day.
I was in uncharted territory, a young woman with two young children, I suddenly found myself a single parent, navigating daily life let alone a professional one was di cult. But with faith and a profound belief that Allah was and remains by my side, it became possible.
No person can hold you back when Allah has decided to raise you up.
What it means to be a ‘single parent’, is a term synonymous with negativity and disadvantage. Determined to break the mould, defy conventional wisdom, and shake o old prejudices. I raised both my sons to achieve, to believe they are capable of anything, of becoming Inshallah successful and happy young men. Aman is reading PPE at Durham University and Aden is sitting his GCSE’s. I could not be more proud of them.
Both are Merchant Taylors’ boys, their education and academic success remain key, indeed it was education, gifted to me by my own parents that have allowed for the life I in turn give my sons and to the practice of law, I devote myself to in helping women and men alike achieve justice.
But with faith and a profound belief that Allah was and remains by my side it became possible.
Justice in England is open to all, like the Ritz Hotel.
I worry that it is going that way again. Until 2013, even those who could not afford lawyers could seek redress in areas such as family law or housing disputes. No longer. Seeking to cut Britain’s budget de cit, the government slashed legal aid. But in doing so, it has failed to reform the system, wholly or partially removing areas of social welfare law such as housing, debt, welfare benefits, and family law from the scope of legal aid. When the coalition government passed the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2012, it promised to review the impact of the cuts to legal aid within three to ve years of implementation.
The impact was felt mostly by women. Women’s ability to obtain and bene t from their legal rights and remedies is dependent upon their ability to access legal information, advice, and representation. Women experiencing violence may need advice on how they can protect themselves from violence by seeking non-molestation or occupation orders; how to divide joint assets and debts following relationship breakdown; deal with the family home; make arrangements for child contact and organise child maintenance.
Further complexity arises where those who are married under Islamic Law but have not conducted a
civil marriage. An Islamic marriage ceremony, known as a ‘Nikaah’ was recently determined not to be a legal ceremony by the Court of Appeal. This meant that the couple in question was never legally married under English law. The effect of this ruling is significant for couples who have had an Islamic marriage ceremony but have not had an additional civil ceremony to register the marriage legally. Without being legally married, the rights and entitlements of spouses in the event of a divorce are severely limited.
A poll for a Channel 4 documentary estimated that 61% of women in the UK who have had a Nikaah have not had a separate civil marriage ceremony. In standard divorce proceedings, the spouse in a weaker financial position may be entitled to maintenance or a higher percentage of the overall matrimonial assets. Importantly, it does not usually matter if the property is owned in one of the parties’ sole names as it will all be included in the matrimonial ‘pot’ to be divided as appropriate. If there is no legal marriage, then these rights do not exist and the weaker financial party may and that they are not be financially supported following a separation. ere will be no right to maintenance and no rights to assets which are held in the other spouse’s name. This is particularly problematic when all of the couple’s assets are not held jointly but are owned legally in the sole name of the financially stronger spouses. I hope to shed more light on this and many more legal principles in the next issues of British Muslim Magazine.