UpdateW Legal in first ever use of Private Prosecution in Religious Divorce Case

January 15, 2020

In a landmark case involving a private prosecution, a man set to appear for trial before a Judge and jury at a London  Crown Court for an offence of ‘Controlling and Coercive Behaviour’ based on his refusal to give a religious divorce (“Get”) to his ex-wife.  A criminal trial was averted when he finally consented to the religious divorce, avoiding the threat of a substantial prison sentence. 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.

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 29th December 2015. It can include acts designed to make persons subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources or depriving them of their independence and regulating their everyday behaviour. The maximum penalty is 5 years’ imprisonment.

It 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 denies her a religious divorce.

Gary Lesin-Davis, solicitor at W Legal, instructed for the prosecution 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.”

 Elliot Shear, Managing Director of W Legal said: “We are extremely proud of Gary and his team for their ingenious and innovative use of the private prosecution mechanism to ensure justice in an area of law and life where it had been previously wanting. We are very pleased to have played a role in helping those unfairly “chained” and to offer a potential solution in cases once thought incapable of being resolved”. 

W Legal is grateful to both Antony Metzer QC & Adam Gersch of Goldsmith Chambers who were instructed in this case.

 For more details please contact  Gary Lesin-Davis gary.lesindavis@wlegal.co.uk

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