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Jewish Beth Din could be archbishop's model
Clare Dyer

The Archbishop of Canterbury's message was not that there should be one law for Muslims and another for the rest. What he seemed to be positing was that the secular legal system should accommodate the traditional sharia councils which exist around the country, dealing with family and other disputes. One model could be the Beth Din, the rabbinical courts set up by a UK statute more than 100 years ago, which means they are recognised within the legal system.

They mainly deal with disputes between Orthodox Jews, although anyone can use the courts. Two individuals agree to have their dispute handled by the Beth Din rather than the ordinary courts. The judges, or dayanim, who preside are rabbis. If a dispute is over a contract under English law or another country's civil law, the court can "incorporate" some of the rules of the civil law into Jewish law. In reality, the proceedings are a form of arbitration. The majority of Beth Din awards that are contested are enforced by courts in the UK, although they can be overruled.

In one case a son claimed his father owed him hundreds of thousands of pounds for smuggling carpets out of post-revolutionary Iran. The father denied the deal existed. If it did, it would have been illegal, which would have prevented the courts enforcing it.

In Jewish law illegality did not affect the rights and the son was awarded more than £500,000. The father refused to pay and the case eventually went to the court of appeal, which overturned the ruling.

The Beth Din can also grant an Orthodox Jewish divorce, known as a get, but a civil divorce is also necessary to change your legal status. Similarly, the Muslim divorce, or talaq, has no legal status. Like Jewish law, Islamic law is a code for living that governs virtually every aspect of life. Islamic courts up and down the country, such as the Islamic Sharia Council in Leyton, east London, issue religious judgments on a range of issues. They may consider everything from inheritance disputes and whether property deals comply with Islamic laws against accruing interest......article conts (-)

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