This week saw the 'landmark' divorce ruling by the English High Court that 'recognised Sharia law'. But what does the decision really mean?

In Akhtar v Khan, Mrs Akhtar and Mr Khan had performed  an Islamic ceremony (in West London) in 1998. Although the marriage was not registered (so as to satisfy the legal requirements as to the formation of a marriage in this country) Mrs Akhtar and Mr Khan regarded one another as husband and wife.  This led Mr Justice Williams to form the view that the marriage was void.

Now to you and I void means not valid, not legally binding, right? Well this is where the confusion is caused. Although the marriage was treated as void, in the context of divorce law, Mrs Akhtar is thus entitled to a decree of nullity (note here that this is not the same as a non marriage which is body of sub-case law built up to say a marriage never existed). The legal ramifications of this, strangely one might reasonably argue, is that this entitled Mrs Akhtar to make financial claims (whereas a non marriage does not). 

So in fact Mr Justice Williams did not recognise recognise the Sharia ceremony as a formation of  valid marriage, rather it was a void marriage, that has the consequence of enabling Mrs Akhtar to make financial claims even though the very definition of void means to be not valid. This is not the same as a non marriage. And ipso facto the law sometimes does not makes sense!