British lawyers launch world-first Sikh Court for family and civil disputes

British lawyers have established the world’s first Sikh court, providing an alternative dispute resolution avenue for British Sikhs embroiled in family and civil conflicts, as reported by The Times.

Unlike religious tribunals, this court operates as an expert-guided forum, not a religious tribunal, aiming to assist Sikh families in resolving disputes in line with Sikh principles.

The initiative arises from concerns that secular judges lack expertise in dealing with the intricacies of Sikhism. The court, comprising 30 magistrates and 15 judges, prioritises mediation, directing parties to specialised courses covering various issues.

While some express concerns about potential abuses, supporters argue that the court will empower women and ensure religious considerations are taken into account.

The court’s establishment follows changes in divorce law, seeking to address issues beyond legal technicalities and preserve religious values.  Sharan Bhachu, a barrister who at the weekend was sworn in as the lead family judge for the Sikh court, told The Times:

“If we think that there are really significant safeguarding issues that we cannot deal with and should not deal with they will be directed to the appropriate place. We’re not here to take over and upset the English courts.”

Gurpreet Anand, president of the Khalsa Jatha in west London, Britain’s oldest gurdwara, said:

“I don’t think that is accurate. Quite often, I get people coming to me with their problems and I’m not always the best person to deal with it. Sometimes elders in our community will try and deal with an issue, but invariably there’s a lack of legal knowledge or a lack of expertise, or they feel compelled to push people in one direction regardless of the facts.”

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