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In the last month, it’s been announced that the UK will get its first Sikh Court to deal with family disputes. Baldip Singh is the young London-based barrister responsible for jointly founding the venture. He explains that it wouldn’t be a ‘religious tribunal’, but it would seek to assist Sikh families if they were in conflict - and do it in a way that was "in line with Sikh principles". 

New court seeks to settle family arguments

This brand-new court will offer hearings in person and remotely - and it offers a staff of thirty magistrates and fifteen judges. Most of these will be women. These magistrates will get together with the involved parties and mediate to negotiate timely settlements and offer religion-specific ways to help them through the issues they’re facing - as well as offer guidance on how to avoid such conflicts in the future.

Set up with the help and guidance - and lengthy discussions with Sikh charities, the courts will aim to offer assistance on matters pertaining to low-level domestic violence, anger issues, and anger management, as well as gambling problems and substance abuse.  

Sikh-specific advice for families in conflict

Sessions will be provided in Punjabi as well as English - and in the event that mediation attempts are unsuccessful, cases will be brought before a Sikh court judge. They will be able to provide a legally binding judgment under the Arbitration Act.

Baldap Singh commented that under the rules of the new court both parties in a case “would have to consent to participating”, adding that if the court believed there were significant safeguarding issues that they couldn’t deal with as a group then both parties would be directed to the appropriate place or authorities for further help and guidance. 

He made it clear that this court wouldn’t seek to take over or take the place of English Courts of Law - but that they were merely providing an extra level of service and support for Sikh families who were facing troubled times and were in need of extra guidance.  Sharan Bhachu a barrister in the UK has been sworn in as the lead family judge for the service in the last couple of weeks.

Can mediation help family disputes in the Sikh community? 

There has always been a strong history of dispute resolution in the Sikh community - and one of the first of these was the panchayat system - used for grievance redressal and dispute resolution. Whenever needed - disputes would be taken to village panchayat who would keep an eye on the community as a whole. For conflict resolution both parties would present themselves to the panchayat and all sides of a story are heard - after this, the panchayat offers a solution though non-compliance of either party would often mean family members were cast out. 

However, over time this system became less effective - people’s family lives and dynamics changed and mediation became more popular.  Mediation and facilitating communication between affected parties in a family disagreement, when undertaken in a culturally sensitive manner is the best way to assist in resolving family disputes. 

An appointed Sikh mediator would help bring both parties together and begin talks. They would not make any decisions on behalf of anyone, nor would they force any party to accept a decision made. Rather, this is an opportunity for Sikh families in dispute to directly engage with each other and use the mediator for assistance and guidance. Parties involved must be responsible for their own opinions and ultimately settle with each other - and reach an agreement. If parties can reach a solution that’s acceptable to everyone, a settlement agreement is drawn up. 

As a community, Sikhs are proudly progressive and have strong cohesive family values that sit at the core of their beliefs. However, that doesn’t mean there are never conflicts and issues that arise within couples and families. It’s how these conflicts are resolved, and Sikhs believe that mediation is one of the best ways forward to resolve many disputes in an amiable and good-natured way. 

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