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A forced marriage is when one or both parties do not consent to getting married but are forced into it against their will. This includes someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to marriage.
‘Force’ can include physical violence, threats of violence, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse against the victim.
The Act makes it an offence to force someone into marriage whether or not the marriage actually takes place. This includes:
- Taking someone overseas to force them to marry
- Marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to marriage
- Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order
Changes to the Act mean that anyone forcing a person to marry against their will can now be punished by up to seven years in prison.
Previously, it was only preventable by obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) through the family courts which can restrict and prevent threatening behaviour, harassment or the use of violence to force the victim into getting married. Breaches of FMPOs are punishable with a fine or up to two years imprisonment, or both.
Although there were a range of offences that covered behaviour typically associated with forcing someone to marry, such as kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault, the new law goes a step further and makes it a specific criminal offence to force someone to marry.
An important distinction is being made by a criminal and a non-criminal remedy coinciding side by side. By virtue of these two different avenues, a victim can choose how they wish to be assisted by the law and which remedy will best achieve their aim. Victims can make clear how they want assistance at the time of reporting the offence. This will be an important aid to victims who may be scared of the repercussions of taking criminal proceedings often against family members when a lesser course of action will do. Alternatively, however, the power of a criminal conviction may be what’s necessary in individual cases if the forcing of marriage is to stop and the victim be adequately protected.
Victims cannot be forced into being a witness in a police investigation simply to secure a prosecution. This should give victims greater confidence in choosing a criminal route over a civil one.
The Government has provided guidance for public sector employees such as health professionals, teachers, police and social services entitled, [media type="link" id=340] along with a step-by-step guide entitled, [media type="link" id=341]. This additional guidance provides a comprehensive point of call for those professionals who work on the front line and are likely to encounter victims of forced marriage in the first instance.
The guidance is also, however, targeted at Chief Executives, Directors and Senior Managers of public agency bodies as it outlines their responsibilities in developing procedures to enable frontline staff to handle cases of forced marriage effectively. It also covers issues such as training and raising awareness. The guidance is very helpful and explains key terms and issues surrounding forced marriage, which will be a useful aid for those who have no experience in this area.
It is hoped that the existence of a new offence will increase the reporting of forced marriages and deter those considering it. The new law sends a clear message; forced marriage is socially unacceptable and it brings the UK in line with other European countries such as Denmark who criminalised the offence in 2008.
Anthony Collins Solicitors has acted in many forced marriage cases including the reported [media type="link" id=339] in which we represented the protected party.
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