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Real Issues No. 320 - Law, Art, Parental Leave

Real Issues No. 320 - Law, Art, Parental Leave
Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 320
25 September 2008

A divisive tribunal
'the plainest part of it'
Pay your own parental leave?

Schools Plus
Have your say on fathering
Maxim Institute Nine Month Internship -- apply now


The introduction of a parallel system of justice is a recurring topic of
concern in the UK, as debates continue between those in favour and those
adamantly against the introduction of Islam's Sharia law into the British
legal system. It has recently been revealed, however, that to a small
extent this already exists, in the form of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal
(MAT): a tribunal that allows Muslims to have their disputes heard in a
setting which takes into consideration both British and Sharia law.

The MAT was set up in 2007 under the provisions of the Arbitration Act
1996, which allows the Tribunal to mediate and arbitrate on issues brought
before it by those seeking resolution under Islamic law. By working within
the framework of British law, any decisions made by the Tribunal can later
be enforced by the ordinary courts. As explained by MAT itself, the
Tribunal will, 'for the first time, offer the Muslim community a real and
true opportunity to settle disputes in accordance with Islamic Sacred Law
with the knowledge that the outcome as determined by MAT will be binding
and enforceable.'

MAT deals mostly with disputes within the range of family, commercial and
inheritance law, and disputes between mosques: it does not have
jurisdiction to try criminal matters, although it will mediate on criminal
cases that fall within these other areas -- such as domestic violence. This
in particular has raised serious concerns in Britain as there are fears
that Islamic law treats women differently to men.

The Tribunal raises a number of important and difficult questions. Unlike
British law which sets up basic parameters, Sharia law is a personal law,
covering all the mundane, day-to-day aspects of a Muslim's life. Further,
it has different concepts of justice, unequal views of men and women, and
demands harsh punishment of anyone who wishes to be removed from its
authority. Moreover, one issue of particular difficulty is the Rule of Law,
which is undermined by a parallel system of justice. The Rule of Law states
that all people are equal under the law, and that the same law should apply
to all -- a concept that underpins the function of democracy. The parallel
legal system that the MAT effectively establishes not only divides a
society, but creates much confusion for the process of justice.

Find out more about the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal


Next time you have a headache it might be worth taking a trip to the art
gallery. You have heard of art for art's sake, well how about art for
ache's sake. Research has emerged from the University of Bari in Italy
showing a connection between pain relief and beautiful art. The study by Dr
Marina de Tommaso looked at the link between people's responses to pain and
their contemplation of art. When people were looking at art they found
beautiful, they experienced substantially less pain than when the same
painful stimuli was given to them while looking at art they found ugly. The
research demonstrates a clear connection between aesthetic beauty and pain
relief, reminding us that the human being is complex and interconnected,
that there is mystery to the way we work and that beauty has an intrinsic
place in human existence.

This research builds on what has been known for a long time. Diversional
therapy is a field that is dedicated solely to the notion that distracting
a person's attention away from their pain or anxieties makes life more
pleasant. However this study goes further by showing that beauty is not
merely a distraction, rather it changes the level of pain a person actually
experiences. This has implications for the way patients suffering pain are
treated. Whilst medication can be useful in treating pain, it may also be
helpful for aesthetics and beauty to be incorporated into the way that
hospitals are built and patients are treated. It also has more general
implications for the way life is understood, beckoning us towards an
understanding of health as intrinsically connected to what is often termed
our 'quality of life.' It seems that health is about more than just
survival, it is shaped by the environments that a person is a part of and
the beauty that they do or do not see around them.

In the world of medicine, where science struggles to find ways to preserve
human life and minimise discomfort, there is a tendency to reduce human
life to its mechanisms -- a beating heart, a well -- working joint or
muscle. The link between aesthetics and pain reminds us that people cannot
be reduced to a collection of functions, or lifted from the environments in
which they live. As G. K. Chesterton once wrote 'The mystery of life is the
plainest part of it.'


The dilemma of balancing work and family life has taken centre stage
recently, with the topic of paid parental leave often at the forefront of
the debate. Into this context, the Centre for Independent Studies in
Australia has offered a policy paper proposing alternatives to state or
employer funded schemes. The paper suggests that self-funded parental
leave, provided through workers' savings, or a state-organised loan scheme,
is a fairer and better way for parents to take time off work to be at home
with their children.

The proposal involves the retention of the current short-term scheme in
Australia, which provides for fourteen weeks' state funded parental leave,
but proposes an additional provision for personal savings and loans that
would enable parents to stay at home with their children for extended
periods. The savings scheme they propose would be flexible, allowing
families to draw down savings for home deposits or retirement, as well as
maternity or paternity leave. It would also be supported by tax breaks. A
loan system is the second option put forward, whereby income-contingent
loans would be granted to families able to show they could pay them back.

The scheme is attractive due to the balance it strikes between public and
private interests. Another substantial benefit is its encouragement of
personal responsibility. It realises both the public and private interests
vested in encouraging parents to be at home with their children in the
early critical stages of development. However, despite the attractions of
such a scheme, with New Zealand wages relatively low and fairly high tax
rates, many families here would struggle to opt into it.

Read Baby steps toward self-funded parental leave



The Government has announced an initial investment of $39.4 million over
the next four years to further develop and implement the Schools Plus
programme. The Schools Plus proposal aims to introduce a system of
appropriate after-school training, career education and youth
apprenticeship schemes, so that by 2014 all young people up until the age
of eighteen will be in some form of education or training. The system is
intended to help address the current problem of low educational achievement
and low levels of literacy and numeracy from young school leavers and has
several valuable aspects. However, the compulsory nature of the proposal is
a drawback, as it restricts schools from having the flexibility or freedom
to develop individual plans to meet the needs of students who may not be
suited to remaining in education for so long.

Read Investing in young people to boost achievement

Read Maxim Institute's submission on Schools Plus


The Families Commission is currently undertaking research into a range of
family issues including how best they can assist men to be better fathers.
To this end they have set up a website that operates as an 'online panel'
to find out what the public think. At the moment men are under-represented
on this site and as a result the Families Commission is looking for more
men to come forward and provide their feedback on fathering. This is a
great opportunity to have your say in a forum which could be influential in
forming responses to a variety of family issues.

Visit The Couch website to have your say


Do you like to think? Are you interested in the deeper issues of society?
Do you care about the world around you? If your answer to these questions
is yes and you have completed the end of your studies or have been working
for a couple of years in the workforce, then the Maxim Institute Nine Month
Internship could be for you. The curriculum covers a range of topics
including jurisprudence, politics, theology, economic policy and
philosophy. Interns also gain professional experience working directly with
the Institute's research, policy, communications and events departments.
The internship runs from March 2008 through to November 2008, with
applications being accepted from now until 1 December 2008.

For more information please contact Maxim Institute's Internships Manager,
Rachel Langton


'What art offers is space -- a certain breathing room for the spirit.'

John Updike

A registered charitable trust, funded by donations, Maxim Institute values
your interest and support.

Click here to find out how you can support Maxim Institute

Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides
thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New
Zealand and around the world.


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