High Court judge refers divorce to religious court
01 Feb 2013
A landmark High Court ruling could see divorces settled by
religious courts allowed under British law.
The prospect has been raised as a result of Mr Justice Baker's
decision to refer the case of an Orthodox Jewish couple's divorce
to a Jewish Beth Din.
The Times reports that this is the first time in English legal
history that a judge has allowed a divorce dispute to be settled by
a religious court. It is believed the decision could now pave the
way for other courts, including Sharia, to rule in divorce
Indeed, Mr Justice Baker cited a talk given by Rowan Williams, the
former Archbishop of Canterbury, on Sharia in his ruling.
During his 2008 speech, Dr Williams stated: "Citizenship in a
secular society should not necessitate the abandoning of religious
In this particular case, the couple involved had married in 2006
and lived in Israel, before returning to London in time for the
birth of their first child.
They had intended to move to Toronto, but the relationship became
strained and they split in 2009, a short time after the birth of
their second child.
A fierce dispute over access to the children ensued and the father
launched proceedings under the Hague Convention on child
However, before the trial reached a London court, the couple took
their issues to a New York Beth Din.
They appealed to Mr Justice Baker to allow them to complete an
arbitration process through the Jewish court because it is more
compliant with their religious beliefs than litigation.
The judge examined the principles of the Beth Din and concluded
that they are in line with family law in England and Wales.
He said: "The outcome was in keeping with English law, whilst
achieved by a process rooted in Jewish culture to which the
Mr Justice Baker did state his ruling would not be binding because
that would go against the jurisdiction of courts, but it is thought
it paves the way for more family law cases
to be referred to religious
courts in the future.