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Criminalisation brings sea change to forced marriage law

New legislation came into effect yesterday criminalising the practice of forcing someone to marry against their will.  Not before time, it is now a criminal offence in England & Wales to use violence, threats or any other form of coercion to cause another person to enter into a marriage without ‘free and full consent’, punishable by up to seven years in prison.  This is a real sea change in attitudes towards the issue of forced marriage.

Previously victims were afforded some protection in the family courts by way of Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs), which came into force in 2008.  However they lacked ‘teeth’; before the new Forced Marriage Law came into force, breaching an FMPO placed the perpetrator in contempt of court but did not specifically invoke criminal sanctions.

The new legislation also gives courts the power to imprison perpetrators for a breach of an FMPO for up to five years, as well as making it an offence to take someone overseas with a view to forcing them to marry – whether or not the marriage takes place.

These changes come as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.  Widely reported in the media, the hope is that thousands of potential victims will now be protected.

In statistics recently published, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with over 1,300 cases in 2013, and 40% of the individuals involved were under the age of 18.  The NSPCC also reports that the number of children contacting ChildLine with concerns over forced marriage has increased by two-thirds in the last year.

Other reports indicate that the changes to Forced Marriage Law and criminalisation may deter people who are being forced into marriage from coming forward, not wishing to see family members actually going to prison.  This is part of the problem however; those being subjected to a forced marriage are often subject to other forms of abuse, and need help to understand and come to terms with this, and ultimately break the cycle.   Victims can still chose to use the civil route and obtain an FMPO as opposed to making a complaint directly to the police.

Either way, it is clear that victims will need continuing support from the authorities throughout the process, to ensure that the legislation has the desired effect.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or any other family law problem, please contact our team on 0161 969 3131 or via intouch@slaterheelis.co.uk for informal, friendly advice and support.

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