Without consent: shining a light on forced marriage by guest blogger Lindsey Randall

This is a subject we have not tackled before. It may be surprising to many people, but forced marriage, where one party is coerced into a loveless marriage, is a continuing issue in this country. It is a dark and disturbing subject, where families acting in what they believe to be in the best interests of their children can require them or other family members to marry against their will. Protestations are overridden and, frequently, vulnerable young people are condemned to an unhappy marriage from which they cannot escape. But they should know that the law in this country will protect them, whether they are still in this country or have been taken abroad. The law will still act even if a marriage has taken place against the person’s will.

The recent case of A v SM & Anor [2012] EWHC 435 (Fam), involving a Forced Marriage Protection Order for a girl (now 20 years-old) and her six younger siblings, and has put the subject centre stage again.

From my own experiences I know that allegations of forced marriage regularly appear before courts and the importance of orders to protect parties either forced into, or at risk of being forced into, marriage.

The current law, Part 4A of the Family Law Act 1996, states that the court may make an order to protect a person either forced into marriage, or who has been subject to an attempt to be forced into marriage. Under the Act, “forced” means coerced by threats or other psychological means into marriage. In deciding whether to make an order, the court will consider the circumstances of the case with particularly emphasis on the safety of the party, their wishes and feelings and, should a marriage already have taken place, whether the party entered into the marriage with their “free and full” consent.

Any order made will place appropriate restrictions and prohibitions on the offending party. The order may also cover any conduct by this party outside of England and Wales. Where there is a risk of significant harm, the court may make such an order without prior notice to the party against whom it is being made.

So what has the recent case of A v SM & Anor [2012] EWHC 435 (Fam) added to existing law?

For those unfamiliar with the details, the case involved a young woman, A, who applied for a Forced Marriage Protection Order to cover both herself and her six younger siblings. It transpired that A’s parents had taken her and her siblings to Bangladesh where it was alleged that B, one of A’s sisters, had been forced into marriage with a local religious leader.  A had feared that her parents intended the same for her and managed to escape through the Forced Marriage Unit,  a joint initiative between the Home and Foreign Commonwealth offices, assisted by the British High Commission.  On her return to England she moved out of her parents’ house.

A fully contested hearing took place in respect of A’s application. The parents denied that they had forced B into marriage and that they had intended the same for A. B had even signed a statement to this effect.  However, B alleged that she had been forced into signing her written statement by her father and had been fearful of stating otherwise because she did not want her younger siblings to be taken into care by the local authority.

The case was heard in the High Court before Mr Justice Baker, who made a Forced Marriage Protection Order in spite of the inconsistencies in A’s oral and written evidence, and B’s signing of a written statement stating that she had not been forced into marriage. Indeed Mr Justice Baker found them to be genuinely truthful witnesses. He also accepted that B had been forced to sign her written statement and that when A contacted the British Commission in Bangladesh, she was genuinely fearful that she would be forced into marriage.

The Judge highlighted that there was a “very strong likelihood” that, unless prevented, the parents would force A in to marriage. He expressed that he was “deeply concerned by the intransigent and untruthful attitude adopted by these implications of that attitude for the welfare of their children” and ordered that the local authority investigate the continuing risks to the siblings.

Mr Justice Baker summed up by stating that forced marriage is a serious problem in certain communities and that: “where it is proved that young people have been forced into marriage, or are at risk of being so forced, the court will act to protect them”.

Shining a light on the available remedies for those trapped into forced marriages seems to have been an important factor in his making of the order and this blog is pleased to highlight his clear strong and firm decision.

Where there is an evident risk that a party may be forced into a marriage, an order will be made. The particular circumstances must be explored and an evaluation made of them as a whole and in relation to the implications for the individuals involved.

If you or anyone you know is affected by this issue, or are fearful it may be a problem in the future, visit www.forcedmarriage.net and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, both of which provide both invaluable information and contact details for people who can help.

Lindsey Randall studied at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, for an MA in English before deciding to pursue a career in law. She attended The College of Law in York before going on to study for the Bar at BPP Law School in Leeds. She is a barrister member of the Middle Temple, having been called to the Bar in 2010. She has now joined Stowe Family Law LLP where she is training to be a solicitor.

1 comment

nomonde zulu - March 20, 2012 at 1:58pm

this incident are horrifying to see how your parents could do such events to your young life . as a young adult in south africa , the youth here does not appreciates their freedom but instead we waste our lives in substance abuse and sexual activities , i wish you would come to share your findings in my community , school and the country its self needs to be informed about this situation at hand

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