ACCORDING to a report in the Times newspaper of 1st February this year, the possibility of divorce cases being referred to religious courts has been opened up by a recent legal decision.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Baker cited the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and his lecture in 2008 in which he said that “citizenship in a secular country should not necessitate the abandoning of religious discipline”.
The case involved two practising Orthodox Jews who (had earlier lived in America and) wanted to refer their case to a senior rabbi in the New York Beth Din (Jewish Court) and asked if the judge would agree.
Mr Justice Baker said he examined the principles used by the Beth Din and ensured they were in line with the laws in England and Wales. He also made it clear that the arbitration or ruling by the Beth Din was not binding: if it was, that could be unlawful, because it would be ousting the jurisdiction of the English courts.
A partner with a London Law Firm who acted for the mother said “There’s no doubt this will open things up. This is the first occasion that a family court has effectively delegated some of its authority to a religious court for arbitration”.
It was also significant, he added, that Mr Justice Baker chose to quote Rowan Williams. “The judge has adopted the sensitive approach advocated by the Archbishop in 2008.
“I believe the Islamic courts would be afforded similar courtesy and respect, if a Muslim husband and wife wished to have issues referred from the courts to the Sharia courts.”