Divorce cases could soon be settled under Sharia law in Britain after landmark legal ruling

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 01, 2013 10:00 hrs

Divorce settlements by religious courts including Sharia could soon be allowed under British law after a landmark legal decision.

The move comes after a High Court referred a couple's divorce case for settlement under Beth Din, or Jewish law.

According to the Times, it is the first time in British legal history when an English family judge has agreed to refer a divorce dispute to a religious court.

Experts said that the judgment could have far-reaching consequences and clear the way for other couples to seek a divorce in a religious court, including Sharia, the Telegraph reports.

The decision was welcomed by the Muslim Council of Britain.

A spokesman told the Times that 'if it leads to the eventual acceptance of Sharia court divorces, then Muslims will be very encouraged'.

According to the report, lawyers said it was significant that Justice Baker cited the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and his talk on Sharia in 2008 in his ruling.

The latest case involved a couple of observant orthodox Jews in their 20s.

The court heard that they married in 2006 in a Jewish ceremony and initially lived in Israel, returning to London for the birth of their first child.

They had planned to move to Toronto but the marriage began to break down and they separated in 2009, shortly after the birth of their second child.

Disputes over access to the children followed and the father began proceedings under The Hague Convention on child abduction.

But before the case came to court in London, the couple decided to refer their disputes to a senior rabbi in the New York Beth Din and asked if the judge would agree.

According to the report, Justice Baker was persuaded by the couple's arguments that arbitration in their own religious court would be better than litigation, and in line with their beliefs.

Justice Baker said he examined the principles used by the Beth Din and ensured that they were in line with the laws in England and Wales.

The judge did make it clear that the arbitration or ruling by the Beth Din was not binding, the report said.

He said that would have made unlawful, because it would be ousting the jurisdiction of the courts, it added.

The Beth Din published its full ruling on the couple's case in 2011, but further negotiations meant that a final settlement was reached only last year, and the judgment released by the High Court this week, the report added. (ANI)

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