Islamic Marriage and English Divorce – a new Decision from the English High Court

In England, almost all married Muslim women have had a nikah, a religious celebration. By contrast, more than half of them have not also gone through a separate civil ceremony, as required under UK law. The often unwelcome consequence is that, under UK law, they are not validly married and therefore insufficiently protected under UK law: they cannot claim maintenance, and they cannot get a divorce as long as the marriage is viewed, in the eyes of the law, as a nullity.

The government has tried for some time to remedy this, under suspicious gazes from conservative Muslims on the one hand, secularists on the other. A 2014 report (the ‘Aurat report’), which  demonstrated, by example of 50 cases, the hardships that could follow from the fact that nikahs are not recognized, found attention in the government party. An independent review into the application of sharia law in England and law, instigated by Theresa May (then the Home Secretary) in 2016 and published earlier this year, recommended to ensure that all Islamic marriages would also be registered; it also recommended campaigns for increased awareness.

Such steps do not help where the wedding already took place and has not been registered. A new decision by the High Court brings partial relief. Nasreen Akhter (who is a solicitor and thus certainly not an uneducated woman ignorant of the law) asked to be divorced from her husband of twenty years, Mohammed Shabaz Khan. Khan’s defense was that the marriage, which had been celebrated as a nikah in west London, existed only under Islamic, not under UK law, and therefore divorce under UK law was not possible. Indeed, up until now, the nikah had been considered a non-marriage which the law could ignore, because it did not even purport to comply with the requirements of English law. The High Court was unwilling to presume the lived marriage as valid. However, drawing at length on Human Rights Law, it declared the marriage void under sec 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and granted the wife a decree of nullity. This has important consequences: Unlike a non-marriage, a void marriage allows a petitioner to obtain financial remedies.

The decision represents a huge step towards the protection of women whose Islamic marriages are not registered. It makes it harder for men to escape their obligations under civil law. At the same time, the decision is not unproblematic: it refuses recognition of an Islamic marriage as such, while at the same time, under certain conditions, treating it like a recognized marriage. In all likelihood, only registration will create the needed certainty.

Much-awaited US Supreme Court decision has been rendered: Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.

The decision is available here and further documentation is available here. I would also like to refer to previous posts by fellow editors here and here. The US Supreme Court held that: “A federal court determining foreign law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but the court is not bound to accord conclusive effect to the foreign government’s statements.”

In a nutshell, the US Supreme Court said that the weight to be given to foreign government statements depends on the circumstances of the case. In particular, it notes that “[t]he appropriate weight [a federal court determining foreign law should give to the views presented by a foreign government] in each case, however, will depend upon the circumstances; a federal court is neither bound to adopt the foreign government’s characterization nor required to ignore other relevant materials. No single formula or rule will fit all cases, but relevant considerations include the statement’s clarity, thoroughness, and support; its context and purpose; the transparency of the foreign legal system; the role and authority of the entity or official offering the statement; and the statement’s consistency with the foreign government’s past positions.”

The concept of ‘right of access’ under Brussels II bis encompasses grandparents

In the judgment C-335/17 of 31 May 2018, the CJEU confirms that the autonomous concept of ‘right of access’ under Brussels II bis Regulation encompasses the rights of access of grandparents to their grandchildren. Read more

The “Coman” Case (C-673/16): Some reflections from the point of view of private international law

Written by Dr. iur. Baiba Rudevska (Latvia)

On 5 June 2018, the ECJ rendered a judgment in the Coman case (C-673/16). For the first time the ECJ had the opportunity to rule, on the concept of ‘spouse’ within the meaning of the Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States (Directive 2004/38) in the context of a same-sex marriage. Even if the Directive only covers questions related to the entry and residence in the European Union (EU), this judgment could be of interest for Private International lawyers as well. Read more

Petronas Lubricants: ECJ confirms that Art 20(2) Brussels I can be used by employer for assigned counter-claim

Last Thursday, the ECJ rendered a short (and rather unsurprising) decision on the interpretation of Art 20(2) Brussels I (= 22(2) of the Recast Regulation). In Petronas Lubricants (Case C 1/17), the Court held that an employer can rely on the provision to bring a counter-claim in the courts chosen by the employee even where said claim has been assigned to the employer after the employee had initiated proceedings.

The question had been referred to the ECJ in the context of a dispute between an employee, Mr Guida, and his two former employers, Petronas Lubricants Italy and Petronas Lubricants Poland. Mr Guida’s parallel employment contracts with these two companies had been terminated among allegations of wrongly claimed reimbursements. Mr Guida, who is domiciled in Poland, had sued his Italian employer in Italy for wrongful dismissal and his employer had brought a counter-claim for repayment of the sums Mr Guida had allegedly wrongfully received, which had been assigned by the Polish employer.

Mareva injunctions under Singapore law

Whether the Singapore court has the jurisdiction or power to grant a Mareva injunction in aid of foreign court proceedings was recently considered by the Singapore High Court in PT Gunung Madu Plantations v Muhammad Jimmy Goh Mashun [2018] SGHC 64. Both plaintiff and defendant were Indonesian and the claim related to alleged breaches of duties which the defendant owed to the plaintiff. The plaintiff had obtained leave to serve the writ in Indonesia on the defendant. The defendant thereupon applied, inter alia, to set aside service of the writ and for a declaration that the court has no jurisdiction over him. In response, the plaintiff applied for a Mareva injunction against the defendant in respect of the defendant’s assets in Singapore. The plaintiff had, after the Singapore action was filed, commenced actions in Malaysia and Indonesia covering much the same allegations against the defendant.

Nori Holdings: England & Wales High Court confirms ‘continuing validity of the decision in West Tankers’ under Brussels I Recast

Earlier this month, the English High Court rendered an interesting decision on the (un-)availability of anti-suit injunctions in protection of arbitration agreements under the Brussels I Recast Regulation (No 1215/2012). In Nori Holdings v Bank Otkritie [2018] EWHC 1343 (Comm), Males J critically discussed (and openly disagreed with) AG Wathelet’s Opinion on Case C-536/13 Gazprom and confirmed that such injunctions continue to not be available where they would restrain proceedings in another EU Member State.
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Double Counting the Place of the Tort?

In common law Canada there is a clear separation between the question of a court having jurisdiction (jurisdiction simpliciter) and the question of a court choosing whether to exercise or stay its jurisdiction.  One issue discussed in the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) is the extent of that separation.  Does this separation mean that a particular fact cannot be used in both the analysis of jurisdiction and of forum non conveniens?  On its face that seems wrong.  A fact could play a role in two separate analyses, being relevant to each in different ways.

The Most Appropriate Forum: Assessing the Applicable Law

Another issue in the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) involves the applicable law as a factor in the forum non conveniens analysis.  It is clear that one of the factors in determining the most appropriate forum is the applicable law.  This is because it is quite easy for the forum to apply its own law and rather more difficult for it to apply the law of another jurisdiction.

So if the defendant can show that the forum would apply not its own law but rather the law of another jurisdiction, that points to a stay of proceedings in favour of that other jurisdiction.  In contrast, if the plaintiff can show that the forum would apply its own law, that points against a stay of proceedings.  In Haaretz.com the plaintiff was able to show that the Ontario court would apply Ontario law, not Israeli law.  So the applicable law factor favoured Ontario.

Not so, argued the defendant, because an Israeli court would apply Israeli law (see para 88).  So as between the two jurisdictions neither was any more convenient than the other!

The Role of Foreign Enforcement Proceedings in Forum Non Conveniens

The doctrine of forum non conveniens, in looking to identify the most appropriate forum for the litigation, considers many factors.  Two of these are (i) a desire to avoid, if possible, a multiplicity of proceedings and (ii) any potential difficulties in enforcing the decision that results from the litigation.  However, it is important to keep these factors analytically separate.

In the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) Justice Abella noted that “enforcement concerns would favour a trial in Israel, in large part because Haaretz’s lack of assets in Ontario would mean that any order made against it would have to be enforced by Israeli courts, thereby raising concerns about a multiplicity of proceedings” (para 142).  Similarly, Justice Cote concluded (paras 82-83) that the fact that an Ontario order would have to be enforced in Israel was a factor that “slightly” favoured trial in Israel.