Criminalisation of Forced Marriage

23 Jun

Although (the clue is in the title) this blog entry refers to new criminal offences, this is certainly legislation that family practitioners should be aware of, as the government has now taken a step further to cracking down on forced marriages by making offences in the criminal, as opposed to civil arena. As the law stood prior to this date there existed only a civil remedy for breach of a forced marriage protection order, namely that set out in Part 4A in the Family Law Act 1996. This civil remedy will remain, as do forced marriage protection orders.

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forced marriage

Although (the clue is in the title) this blog entry refers to new criminal offences, this is certainly legislation that family practitioners should be aware of, as the government has now taken a step further to cracking down on forced marriages by making offences in the criminal, as opposed to civil arena. As the law stood prior to this date there existed only a civil remedy for breach of a forced marriage protection order, namely that set out in Part 4A in the Family Law Act 1996. This civil remedy will remain, as do forced marriage protection orders.

The criminalisation of forced marriage became law on 16th June 2014. . The new legislation will apply if people are forced into marriage in England and Wales, as well as to UK nationals at risk of being forced into marriage abroad. The new offences in respect of forced marriage took effect from that date (Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 (Commencement No. 2 Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2014, art 5 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/12/part/10/enacted ). By section 120 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 section 63CA is inserted in to the Family Law Act 1996. That provision creates a criminal offence of breaching a forced marriage protection order. Section 121 of the act makes it a criminal offence to use violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a forced marriage. There is a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment for committing a forced marriage offence and a maximum penalty of five years for breach of a forced marriage protection order.

Whether or not the victims of forced marriage will feel able to pursue a prosecution under the new Act, which may entail giving evidence against close family member remains to be seen, but the Act is an important landmark and makes clear that forced marriage is not condoned in the United Kingdom (N.B. the legislation is yet to be implemented in Scotland and will not apply in Northern Ireland, although ministers there will be able to introduce their own legislation). Statistics for forced marriage are hard to ascertain, but it is known that in 2013 the government's Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,302 cases; a significant number. Breaking down those cases, some 82% of victims were female and 18% male while 15% were under the age of 15.

Zosia Keniston


For more information on Family Law, click here.