Case casts shadow across community
THE CASE of Miriam Kliers is not as straightforward as it might seem.
On first reading, one is left with the impression that this was simply about an oppressed Jewish woman who won a divorce case. In fact, the case exposes illegal practices within the Chasidic community. It is also a keen reminder that little may have changed since life portrayed in Chaim Potok’s novel, My name is Asher Lev.
The family home in Stamford Hill had been purchased in the name of Mrs Kliers’ brother, Mordechai, who held the property on trust, with 75 per cent for Mrs Kliers and 25 per cent for her husband, Shlomo. Mordechai had claimed that he wholly owned the property.
The property had been purchased in 2004 as part of an illegal arrangement, which the judge said Mrs Kliers had come under cultural pressures to enter into. Under the agreement, Mordechai took on a mortgage to fund the purchase so that the couple could take on a tenancy agreement and fraudulently claim housing benefit.
When the marriage broke down in 2012, Mrs Kliers sought her share of the property, which her brother denied; she therefore had little choice but to disclose the wrongdoing and the cash owed to the local authority.
Mrs Kliers had claimed in earlier hearings that while she accepted the illegality of the transaction, she had come under the sway of community leaders.
Mr Kliers tried to have the case transferred to the family court. It is well known that the family courts have a much wider discretion than the chancery division. They also have a greater range of financial orders at their disposal.
The husband had failed to comply with a number of orders throughout the proceedings and had therefore been debarred from defending. The judge concluded that the application was a ploy to derail the proceedings to disadvantage his wife.
It is very difficult to square the practices of any religious community when unfairness is perpetrated and illegal acts are undertaken in the name of religion. It can also embarrass those who shy away from such behaviour and treat others with respect.
While recent photographs seem to show that Mrs Kliers has broken free of the constraints under which she was living, there are many for whom that is not the case. It must also not be forgotten that Mordechai too seems to have come under pressure to conform.
If part of the basis of religion is to impose a code of ethics and morality and to reduce suffering, I am left wondering whether when that fails, recourse to the law is the only option.
The pair fraudulently claimed housing benefit
Deborah Levy is a Consultant at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth