In 2012 my French Catholic husband used Dubai’s sharia court system to divorce me. The court took my beautiful boy Louis away and I've spent the last 8 years fighting legal battles in 3 countries to be reunited with him.
The sharia divorce stated that I had ‘refused to obey my husband’ and I was a negligent mother because Louis had eczema.
I took my case to the British courts looking for justice, but a High Court judge accepted the sharia divorce granted by a ‘friendly nation.’
In France, the Supreme Court ruled exactly the opposite and threw out the ‘manifestly discriminatory’ Dubai decision. The UN has also condemned the way Dubai courts treat women.
But, in a highly unusual move, the judge in London ordered me to pay my ex-husband’s legal costs. I’m now facing a bill of £93,867.96 and the threat of losing my home.
If you think it’s unacceptable in modern Britain that I should be made bankrupt - because I fought to have a relationship with my young son, and because I fought against Dubai’s sharia system - please give any help you can.
I have only a couple of months to raise the money I need.
I’m just a normal person trapped in horrible circumstances. And my faith in British justice has been badly shaken.
I came back to this country with nothing except the hope of a fair hearing.
But the British judge googled Dubai’s sharia legal system and concluded it was similar to our own divorce laws.
I had reported domestic abuse to the Dubai authorities and provided the British court with evidence of abuse and coercive control. But the judge said I didn’t look or behave like a victim.
He took no account of the fact that I lost my son when he was just three years old. The only thing I gained from the British court case was six hours a year to be with Louis, in a tiny room in London under strict supervision.
The judge accepted that I had been thrown out of the marital home in Dubai. My husband cut off all financial support and until my son was taken away we were homeless and living off charitable handouts.
The judge also accepted that I had PTSD as a result of what happened to me in Dubai. Back in London, I had no job or income.
But he still said I had to pay costs.
If I don't pay, I am threatened with bankruptcy and the loss of my family home. After everything I have endured, this is too cruel. But I will never stop fighting for Louis.
Earlier this year the High Court in London ruled against Dubai's billionaire ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, suggesting his former wife Princess Haya could never get a fair hearing in Dubai's sharia system.
If it’s not fair for a princess, how can it possibly be fair for me? And how can British and French courts come to such different conclusions about my case?
Please take a few minutes to read my story. It explains why the costs order is unjust and why I need your help.
It also raises fundamental questions about British justice.
I'm Afsana Lachaux, and I'm a Londoner. I'm a mother, a social policy expert and an activist for women’s rights. In 2019 I won the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize for my work in campaigning for justice and protection of women.
After I lobbied extensively, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its travel advice, to warn British women that they could face sharia court custody proceedings in the United Arab Emirates.
It was something that never occurred to me when I first moved to Dubai.
WHY AM I CROWDFUNDING?
It’s extremely rare, in cases involving children, to end up paying the other side’s costs.
The judge was given evidence of my inability to pay this exorbitant amount. He was told of the hardship it would cause me financially and mentally.
The only asset I had was my home. When the judge made his decision, I was also caring for my elderly mother.
The court accepted the evidence given by a medical expert that I had been traumatised by being separated from my young son, and by my unjust treatment in Dubai.
The judge found that my husband had kicked me out of the house with a one-year-old baby and had refused to support us financially. Yet, despite all this evidence, the judge decided I should pay my ex husband’s legal costs.
I am trying to rebuild my life. After a decade of being unable to work, I am just getting back to normal. I now work for a charity and campaign on equal access to the law.
Please help me fight this unfair decision and protect vulnerable people from the unaffordable price of real justice.
WHAT WILL I DO WITH THIS MONEY?
1. It will help me pay the legal costs.
2. It will help me keep a home for Louis, so he can get to know his family when he is old enough to make his own decisions.
3. The support generated by this crowdfunder will help my campaign to change the law, to prevent cost orders being made against vulnerable people.
It shouldn't be one rule for the rich, and another for the poor.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
This is about whether the British legal system is protecting its own citizens.
Why is it supporting sharia law?
It's morally wrong.
The award of costs can also have a crippling effect financially and emotionally, especially on victims of domestic abuse.
The judge didn't have to make me pay this extortionate amount.
His decision has caused my mental health to deteriorate and placed enormous hardship on me.
Please share with friends, family and well wishers. You can also follow me on twitter @afsanalachaux or visit my website afsanalachaux.com to learn more about this crowd-funding campaign.
I would be grateful for any contribution you can make. Thank you.
MY STORY IN MORE DETAIL
In April 2011, my marriage had collapsed. I found myself homeless in Dubai, with a young baby to look after. My husband suddenly changed the locks on the home we had shared.
A few months earlier, I had filed a complaint of domestic violence with the Dubai police. But it was dismissed at a time when Human Rights Watch said Dubai was failing to respond adequately to prevent abuse. You can read more about that here.
I was alone with Louis, cut off from family and friends. And without any financial support from my husband.
While I was struggling to survive in a foreign land, my husband used Dubai’s sharia courts to divorce me.
The judgment stated I was an unfit mother because Louis had eczema, I had gay friends and I had refused to ‘obey my husband’. The court was provided pictures of our pre-wedding party to prove that I ‘frequented night clubs.’
You can read this BBC report about my case https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28638553.
Louis was only three years old when he was taken from me. I was grief stricken and stuck in Dubai without any rights. I eventually got on a plane with just a handbag, and Louis’s Pooh Bear, and came back to the safety of my family in the UK. I put my faith in British justice and hoped for a fair hearing in London.
It was not to be. Instead, the High court endorsed the Dubai divorce and supported the Sharia legal system – the judge said he was “satisfied that the divorce …is entirely consistent with our public policy as it is virtually the same as the ground for divorce that is principally used here.”
This was a huge shock to me because British law doesn’t have a ground for divorce based on disobedience to the husband.
It was only the French legal system that stood up for my rights. In the home country of my former husband, the Supreme Court found the Dubai divorce ruling to be “manifestly discriminatory.”
Other British courts have raised serious questions about the nature of justice in Dubai. Just this year, another British judge found the ruler of Dubai (who is also the head of the Dubai court system) guilty of the kidnap and torture of his own daughters.
His wife and children fled to Britain seeking the protection of the British courts in fear of their lives.
But the judge in my case was willing to accept that the sharia system in Dubai provided a woman like me with a fair hearing.
In a British court room, I was accused of being ‘intelligent’, and ‘articulate’, and the judge decided that undermined my credibility as a genuine victim of abuse. I felt constantly ridiculed.
Hearing a British judge say that I didn’t look like someone “under the coercive control of the husband” was extremely distressing.
My case was argued extensively in France, all the way up to the Supreme Court. They were provided with the same information as the British Courts. At no point did the French judges indulge in any victim blaming.
Dubai's sharia laws have been roundly condemned by both the UN and by European courts, for unfair trials and discriminatory treatment towards women. But that didn't seem to matter in a court room in London - and now I face financial ruin because I'm (still) fighting for justice.
Whatever happens, I will never stop fighting for Louis. I know that there are lots of people out there who feel like I do, and who believe in the principle of a fair and just British system.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support. #HelpAfsana
- shouraki nzaji
- Fiona Robertson
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