13th April 2018

A forced marriage is where one or both parties do not consent to the marriage and pressure or duress is used. A forced marriage can also occur when a person lacks the capacity to provide consent due to disability. The pressure placed on victims can be emotional and psychological abuse, as well as physical violence and sexual abuse.

Forced marriages differ from an arranged marriage, which is where family members choose who the parties shall marry, however, the parties have the final choice.

Those affected by forced marriage can seek protection from the Family Courts by applying for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) under section 63A of the Family Law Act 1996. The FMPO can be applied for by the person who is at risk of being forced or has already been forced into marriage, as well as “a relevant third party.” They are defined as someone who is appointed to make applications on behalf of others, such as the Police and Local Authorities.

A FMPO is enforceable abroad and usually include clauses such as:

  • The Respondent must not remove the Applicant from the UK.
  • The Respondent must not harass, pester or molest the Applicant.
  • The Respondent must not force the Applicant to marry.

When the orders were first introduced, breaches were dealt with by way of contempt of Court, however, the introduction of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 means that it is now a criminal offence to breach an order. Under section 63CA Family Law Act 1996, a person found guilty of breaching a FMPO can be sentenced to a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.

In addition, the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 also created a new criminal offence of forcing a person into a marriage. A person is guilty of this offence if they use violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and they believe, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.

The introduction of the criminal offences is designed to work alongside the civil protection orders and is hailed as a step forwards for victims, as it provides options to victims as to how they wish to seek justice. It is also the victim who determines whether or not to prosecute.

Ben Hoare Bell LLP has a specialist International Family Law team who can offer advice about forced marriages. To speak to a member of the International Family Law team please contact us on 0191 275 2626 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk

Please note that this advice was correct at the time of writing. However there may have been changes in the law or procedure since that date. If you are in doubt you should obtain up to date legal advice.