Landmark case sees woman obtain get after launching private prosecution against husband for coercive control

'For the first time in the UK, a private prosecution was successfully commenced against a get refuser'


A woman in London has obtained a get after launching a private prosecution against her husband, in what lawyers say is a landmark case.

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.

Lawyers for the woman, who asked not to be named, brought the prosecution under laws against controlling or coercive behaviour that came into effect at the end of 2015.

The husband was due to face a crown court trial in July and, if convicted, could have been jailed for up to five years.

But she has discontinued the case after her ex-husband finally gave the get last month.

Her solicitor, Gary Lesin-Davis of W Legal, told the JC: “Individuals have the right to bring a private prosecution in appropriate cases. Prosecution can provide a powerful remedy to protect vulnerable women whose treatment by recalcitrant husbands strays into criminal offending.”

Now the door is open to other women to consider bringing legal action against their former spouses.

The woman was born abroad and met her husband in Israel. Their marriage did not last long and they had been separated for around five years.

Anthony Metzer QC, her leading counsel, and his Goldsmith Chambers colleague Adam Gersch appeared in court this week to say there was no public interest in pursuing the case since she had now received a get.

The husband had previously tried to press the woman into revoking a molestation order and leaving the country in return for a get, Mr Metzer told the court.

“The defendant was well aware that by refusing to provide a get, the victim would be isolated, prevented from forming a future relationship or having children, and unable to lead an Orthodox Jewish life in the community of her choice,” he said.

A person bringing a private prosecution has to be prepared to foot the bill for their legal costs.

But in a short hearing, the judge this week accepted an application for the state to fund the prosecution costs.

“This was an historic, novel and ground-breaking case potentially of relevance to communities outside the Orthodox Jewish community too,” Mr Metzer said. “For the first time in the UK, a private prosecution was successfully commenced against a get refuser.”

Under family law, a court already has the power to hold up a civil divorce if there is an obstacle to religious re-marriage.

But the use of the criminal courts now provides “another weapon in the armoury,” Mr Lesin-Davis said.

The refusal of the get “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 remarrying.”

According to Jewish law, if a divorcee without a get goes on to have a child with another man, the child is a mamzer, illegitimate.

A get has to be given freely by the husband, although Batei Din in the UK have tried to apply sanctions - such as denying recalcitrant husbands synagogue honours - in an attempt to encourage them to grant a get.

But Mr Lesin-Davis said the threat of a jail sentence “is a lot more powerful than being told you are not going to get an aliyah in shul”.

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