Transgender Jewish woman wins review of child contact case

UK appeal court says ruling that woman should not see her children did not address issues of human rights and discrimination

An ultra-Orthodox Jew who left her community to start a new life as a woman has won the right to have her case reviewed in the high court after an earlier ruling that she should have no direct contact with her five children.

The court of appeal has decided to refer back the case of the woman, known in court as J, who has not seen her children 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 2016 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 12, she said she would accept any contact conditions, including reverting as far as possible to her previous male appearance in the early stages.

In a detailed judgment issued in February, 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.”

He added: “These children are caught between two apparently incompatible ways of living, led by tiny minorities within society at large … In the final analysis, the gulf between these parents – the mother within the ultra-Orthodox community and the father as a transgender person – is too wide for the children to bridge.”

J appealed against the decision in a case heard last month by Sir James Munby, Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Singh. On Wednesday, they ordered the issues to be reconsidered in a fresh hearing by another high court judge, as Jackson had been promoted.

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 J made about Jackson’s decisions. They said it was “unfortunate that the judge did not address head-on the human rights issues and issues of discrimination which arose”.

They concluded “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.”


Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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