The House of Lords has given further support to a private members bill to regulate religious tribunals which the Board of Deputies warns could hit Batei Din.
Cross-bencher Baroness Cox wants to force religious courts which arbitrate disputes to comply with equality law.
But while her proposed legislation is intended mainly to control sharia courts, the Board has warned that it could have “unintended consequences” on rabbinical courts.
If the Bill became law, the London Beth Din fears that “any Orthodox Jewish couple who sought guidance from a Beth Din as to their rights and obligations on the break-up of a marriage – with regard to property or child issues – would have to be turned away,” according a briefing sent to peers by the Board.
“While it is arguable that a question of Orthodox Jewish law could still be asked of them in theoretical terms, they could not hear both parties in a formal hearing and give a decision.”
The proposed legislation “prevents faith minorities…from approaching their faith tribunals for adjudication in a matter which they believe to be covered by the rules of their faith,” it said.
The Bill, given a third reading in the Lords today, will now go to the Commons for discussion. Baroness Cox said that it marked “an important milestone for victims of religiously-sanctioned gender abuse.”
The Bill would ensure that “Muslim women have access to genuine access to knowledge concerning their rights,” she said. It would also compliment the government’s “forthcoming inquiry into sharia courts,” she said, “but would also help reach those who might otherwise suffer abuse”.
Beth Din hearings commonly take place as recognised arbitration proceedings under English law. But the Bill, if passed, could prevent them acting according to Jewish law in certain cases, Federation Beth Din head Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein said.
If a person dies intestate, for example, under Jewish law sons would get preference over daughters in the distribution of the estate and the first born-son could claim a double portion.
There are also instances when a woman’s evidence would be limited, Dayan Lichtenstein said, although these would be few.Source