In AI v MT, Mr Justice Baker made a court order endorsing a complex divorce settlement between an orthodox Jewish couple which had been arbitrated by a traditional rabbinical court in the US, the New York Beth Din.
The Times claims that “the decision is thought to be the first in British legal history where an English family judge agreed to refer a divorce dispute to a religious court.”
The report quotes a spokesman from the Muslim Council of Great Britain saying:
“If it leads to the eventual acceptance of Sharia court divorces, then Muslims will be very encouraged.”
However, the article was criticised in other quarters. British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who converted to Islam in 2003 after being captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter:
“WTH is #TheTimes up to with disgraceful headline on sharia law over divorce story involving Jewish couple? Can anyone explain this?”
Legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg also criticized the article’s Sharia claims on Twitter, saying the judgement had “nothing to do with sharia”.
In response to a response saying Mr Justice Baker’s ruling had been about a ‘get’ (traditional Jewish divorce), Rozenberg insisted:
“Not even about the “get”. It’s about the money children agreement that preceded it.”
“…the judgment concerned a Jewish divorce under the auspices of the Beth Din, and had nothing to do with Sharia at all.”
In his article, Wilson examines the judgement and notes that Mr Justice Baker’s court order was the crucial element :
“…the [couple] chose to resolve their differences by means of the Beth Din, but they still required the court’s approval. The court happened to approve the Beth Din’s ruling…but it is the court’s order, and not the Beth Din’s ruling, that has force in English law.”
Under English common law, parties are free to chose any way to resolve disputes that they wish, as long as their chosen method is lawful.
“…if the courts recognise and allow the enforcement of an arbitration conducted under (say) New York law, that involves no importation of New York law into English law…. The parties agreed they would resolve their dispute under X arbitration process….and unless there is a good reason….there is no reason why English law would not recognise it.”
Photo of the Royal Courts of Justice by Tony Hadnutt via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence