A High Court decision approving the terms of a divorce under rabbinical law, the first in British legal history, could lead to similar settlements by other religious courts, including Sharia.
Mr Justice Baker allowed an orthodox Jewish couple to defer the arbitration of their divorce to a Beth Din as “the outcome was in keeping with English law, whilst achieved by a process rooted in Jewish culture”.
Speaking to The Times, a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "If it leads to the eventual acceptance of Sharia court divorces, then Muslims will be very encouraged.”
The couple, who married in their twenties in 2006, lived in Israel before moving to the UK, where they had their first child. They broke up in 2009 after the woman had given birth the their second child.
Following a dispute over access to the children, the father brought court proceedings in London under the Hague Convention on child abduction, however the dispute was subsequently referred to a senior rabbi in New York.
The London judge allowed the dispute to be heard in the Beth Din, saying: “The parties’ devout beliefs had been respected.”
The Beth Din published its pronouncement last year, with the High Court releasing its final decision, which quoted Rowan Williams’ 2008 speech in which the former Archbishop said “religious discipline” should not be abandoned in a secular society, this week.
“This is the first occasion that a family court has effectively delegated some of its authority to a religious court for arbitration,” said James Stewart, a partner in the law firm that acted for the woman in the case.
He added: "There's no doubt this could open things up."
Although versions of Sharia vary, a classical interpretation allows a man to divorce his wife by telling her he wishes to do so. This was not always reciprocated should the woman want a divorce, however it is becoming increasingly common for the same to apply should a woman want a divorce.