Michelle Buckle, Stuart Barton (Head of Department), Samantha Cole, Paula Fraser
It is often said that marriage should be the happiest day of a person’s life. Sadly, for those who are forced to marry against their wishes, it can be a nightmare. Young people brought up in Eastern cultures within England and Wales (both male and female), are more likely to be coerced or pressured into a marriage by their wider family. For such people, finding help or support is often very difficult.
There is no ‘typical’ forced marriage but individuals will often find themselves being encouraged into a marriage for the sake of ‘family honour’ or to ‘uphold tradition.’ This pressure may start at a relatively young age, even at thirteen or fourteen years old. Forced marriage, despite some public perceptions, is not a criminal offence and this arguably contributes to the problem.
Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007
In 2008, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 came into force. The Act is specifically designed to assist persons who have been, or are at risk of being forced into marriage against their wishes. The legal definition of forced marriage is:
“When a person (“B”) forces another person (“A”) into a marriage without A’s free and full consent.”
The following points are important:
• B does not need to be the person whom A is supposed to marry
• B may threaten A or another person such as a friend of A
• Force includes physical/emotional/financial pressure of a wide nature
Who can apply under the Act?
Victims can apply without the need to obtain permission first from the Court.
Social Services will be able to apply on behalf of victims.
Anybody, such as a family member or friend of a victim, can apply on behalf of a victim but they will need to obtain permission from the Court first.
Why use the Act in the first place?
The Court can make a protection order to stop the victim from being forced into a marriage. For example:
• B would be prevented from threatening or abusing A in any way
• B would have to surrender A’s passport to stop them being taken abroad
• B would have to stay away from A’s property
The Court can include a provision that if B breaks the protection order, there is a power for the police to arrest B. If B is found to have broken the order, they could be sent to prison.
How is an application made?
An application form is sent to the Court along with a court fee. In the Lancashire area, the application must be sent to either the Manchester or the Blackburn County Court.
If the application is urgent or made in an emergency, the Court can deal with it at short notice and without B being present. A Judge will decide whether a protection order should be made and if so, what terms it should include.
If the application is not urgent, the Court will decide when a first hearing is to take place.
What if the victim is scared or frightened of B?
The Court can arrange provisions that the victim can be assisted by the Court witness service or that they enter the Court at a separate entrance to B.
If the victim does not want to see or face B in Court, they may be allowed to give evidence via a video-link.
In all cases the Court will carefully consider the safety of the victim and measures to ensure that B cannot speak to or approach them.
Is Legal Aid (public funding) available?
Public funding is available to victims or third parties who wish to make an application. The Court can also arrange for an interpreter to be present at Court to assist the victim if they have difficulty understanding English.