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Landmark case for religious divorce


W Legal, religious divorce, get, court case, landmark case, private prosecution, Controlling or Coercive Behaviour, Orthodox Jew, “Denying a woman her get is a powerplay and, as such, is a form of abuse.”

In what has become a landmark case involving a private prosecution, a man was set to appear for trial before a judge and jury at a London  Crown Court for the offence of ‘Controlling and Coercive Behaviour’ based on his refusal to give a religious divorce (‘Get’) to his ex-wife.

But a criminal trial was averted when he finally consented to the religious divorce – and avoided a substantial prison sentence.

A get has to be given freely by the husband, although the Jewish courts of law, batei din, in the UK have tried to apply sanctions – such as denying recalcitrant husbands synagogue honours – in a bid to make them grant one.

Use of the criminal process by a private individual in this area has wide implications within the Orthodox Jewish community – and potentially in other communities, when religious laws are abused by recalcitrant husbands.

Under family law, a court has had the power to hold up a civil divorce if there is an obstacle to religious re-marriage.

Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate Family Relationship is an offence contrary to section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, which came into force on 29 December 2015.

It can include acts designed to make people subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, by exploiting their resources or by depriving them of their independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.

The maximum penalty on conviction is 5 years’ imprisonment.

This is believed to be the first time the criminal justice system in the UK has been used on behalf of an agunah – a “chained” woman left unable to remarry according to Jewish law because her husband has denied her a religious divorce.

The husband had previously tried to press the woman into revoking a molestation order and leaving the country in return for a get, Anthony Metzer QC, her leading counsel, told the court.

“The defendant was well aware that by refusing to provide a get, the victim would be isolated, prevented from forming a future relationship or having children, and unable to lead an Orthodox Jewish life in the community of her choice,” Metzer said.

And Gary Lesin-Davis, a solicitor at W Legal, acting for the woman, who asked not to be named, said: “Individuals have the right to bring private criminal prosecutions in appropriate cases.

“Prosecution can provide a powerful remedy to protect vulnerable women whose treatment by recalcitrant husbands strays into criminal offending.

“In this case, the get refusal involved a serious restriction on the liberty of the victim and was clearly behaviour designed to control and undermine her, keeping her in an intimate relationship against her will and preventing her from re-marrying.”

Naomi Dickson, chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid, said: “Denying a woman her get is a powerplay and, as such, is a form of abuse.

“We are very pleased that the law has been used to support this woman, and hope that this acts as a deterrent to further would-be get refusers.”

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