Aydarus Yusuf has lived in the UK for the past 15 years, but he feels more bound by the traditional law of his country of birth - Somalia - than he does by the law of England and Wales."Us Somalis, wherever we are in the world, we have our own law. It's not Islamic, it's not religious - it's just a cultural thing."
A number of parallel legal universes have been quietly evolving among minority communities. As well as Somali customary law, Islamic and Jewish laws are being applied and enforced in parts of the UK.
While religious leaders in the UK's Jewish and Muslim communities have not sought to enforce their own versions of criminal law, they have steadily built up their capacity to deal with civil matters within their own religious codes. What's more, they are doing it with the help of English law.Crucially, the legislation does not insist that settlements must be based on English law; all that matters is the outcome is reasonable and both parties agree to the process. And it's in this space that religious courts, applying the laws of another culture, are growing in the UK.
"Very often traditional forms of mediation can disadvantage vulnerable groups, such as women, within a community."
Islamic sharia law is gaining an increasing foothold in parts of Britain, a report claims.However, the BBC Radio 4 programme Law in Action produced evidence yesterday that it was being used by some Muslims as an alternative to English criminal law. Aydarus Yusuf, 29, a youth worker from Somalia, recalled a stabbing case that was decided by an unofficial Somali "court" sitting in Woolwich, south-east London.