Transgender orthodox Jew’s case to see her children will be reheard

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Dec 22, 2017
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The Haredi community in which the woman lived threatened to ostracise her family if they had contact her

Yoav Lemmer/AFP/Getty Images

An ultra-orthodox Jewish transgender woman who left the local community has won a review of a court ruling that she should have no direct contact with her five children.

The Court of Appeal has referred back the case of the woman, known in court as J, who has not seen the children she had when living as a man since leaving the tight-knit Haredi community in Manchester in 2015. After it became known that J was living as a woman the community threatened to ostracise the family if they had any contact with her.

J told the High Court in November last year that she believed she was the first transgender person to have left a Haredi community in the UK. She said she understood the community’s rejection of her: “They have to get rid of me – I have sympathy with that.”

However, in an attempt to see her children, then aged between five and twelve, she said she would accept any contact conditions, including reverting as far as possible to her previous appearance in the early stages.

In a judgment in January, Mr Justice Peter Jackson said: “The likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalised or excluded by the ultra-orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contact.”
 
J appealed against that decision at a hearing last month before Sir James Munby, president of the family division, with Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Singh. This week they ordered the issues to be reconsidered in a hearing by another High Court judge, as Lord Justice Peter Jackson now sits in the Court of Appeal.

The appeal court described the case as “stark, deeply saddening and extremely disturbing”. It said that many people would find the earlier judgment “both surprising and disturbing, thinking to themselves, and we can understand why, how can this be so, how can this be right?”

The judges upheld a number of complaints that J made about the earlier ruling and said that it was “unfortunate that the judge did not address head-on the human rights issues and issues of discrimination which arose”. They concluded that “there was considerable substance in the complaint that the judge ‘gave up too easily’ and decided the question of direct contact then and there without directing even a single attempt to try and make it work”.

A spokesperson for J’s legal team said: “This decision is one that will be welcomed not just by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals living within small religious groups, but by the LGBT community in general. It sends a clear message that no religious community can operate on their own island but must conform to the law of the land.”

Alison Ball, QC, of 1 Garden Court chambers in the Temple, acted for J; she was instructed by London law firm Dawson Cornwell.

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