|Speaker: William Gelley (University of Cambridge)
Abstract: This seemingly esoteric question lies at the heart of a rapidly developing area of English law which has received significant media coverage in recent months.
In Orthodox Judaism, a woman must receive a Get (religious divorce) in order to remarry, regardless of whether she has already been granted a civil divorce. The ‘modern Agunah problem’ refers to the women who are ‘chained’ indefinitely due to their husbands’ refusal to grant a Get after the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Recently, Parliament, the government and the courts have all intervened to devise methods to pressure husbands into granting a divorce. In 2019, the Court of Appeal affirmed the possibility of financial repercussions for Get refusers. Lawyers have attempted private prosecutions to threaten Get refusers with criminal sanctions. Prosecution efforts have been supported by provisions in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which broaden the scope of the controlling and coercive behaviour offence. Get refusal is explicitly mentioned in the draft statutory guidance to the Act.
The seminar analyses the consequences of state compulsion by reference to sources of Jewish law and the effects of similar developments in the state of New York. It claims that unilateral state action is counterproductive because divorces procured by coercive methods are generally considered to be invalid by the religious courts that supervise them. The result is that external interventions intended to help the victim have the perverse effect of making it more difficult for her to receive a Get in the future. The unilateral approach is contrasted to a proposed collaborative model involving cooperation with Rabbinic authorities, which offers an avenue to achieve the same goal in at least some cases while avoiding the issues engendered by state interference in an inherently religious process.
Speaker Bio: William Gelley studied Jewish law for over ten years before qualifying as an arbitrator in Jewish law in Israel. He has clerked for the Court of the Chief Rabbi and acted on behalf of clients in arbitration proceedings taking place under Jewish law. He is now studying law at Magdalene College, Cambridge. His interests lie in the interface between religious legal systems and English law, and in the interactions between Rabbinical and secular courts in the UK.
A recording is expected to be available afterwards. Recordings of previous CSLG events are also available.
All welcome; please register to be provided with the Zoom details.