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Forced marriage and the “lawfully wedded” wife

Today, on the 32nd International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill reaches the Committee stage of the House of Lords. The Bill introduces a raft of measures covering matters as diverse as dangerous dogs, extradition proceedings, firearms and, tucked away in Part 10, forced marriage. Forced marriage is to be criminalised. “Was it not already?”, you may ask. The current law Forced marriage is where one or both parties to a marriage lack consent and duress is a factor. Forcing an individual to marry is a breach of Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to marry and found a family (a right which includes the requirement that parties to the marriage have given full consent). It has been the subject of legislation since the introduction of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which made a civil remedy available to victims.

This took the form of a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). Under the Act, victims of forced marriage and those facing forced marriage are able to apply for a FMPO. Relevant third parties, such as local authorities, are also able to apply for FMPOs and third parties not designated “relevant” can apply for the order with the permission of the court. A power of arrest can also be attached and the breach of a FMPO is treated as contempt of court. A FMPO made under this legislation is wide reaching and can apply to conduct both inside and outside England and Wales. How this will change The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will criminalise the breach of these civil orders, as well as creating the specific offence of forcing someone to marry. Under the new legislation, breach of a FMPO will now carry a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.

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