Forced marriages and marriage protection orders

What is a forced marriage?

A forced marriage is a marriage that takes place without the full and free consent of both parties. Either one, or both, parties will have been subjected to duress or threats to force them to marry. Duress may involve physical, psychological, financial, sexual and/or emotional pressure.

Traditionally, it is generally young females who have been subjected to forced marriages. The majority of forced marriages occur in the Muslim culture. However, there has been an increase in males being forced into marriage.

Increasing concerns among UK society and the authorities has resulted in new laws being implemented to protect the victims of forced marriage. Importantly, forcing a person into a marriage is now a criminal offence.

How does a forced marriage differ from anarranged marriage?

In arranged marriages, the families of both parties take a leading role in arranging the marriage. However, the decision whether or not to accept the proposed marriage remains with the prospective parties. No force is involved.

What are the reasons behind forced marriages?

There are many reasons why individuals are forced into marriage, including:

  • controlling unwanted behaviour, eg. alcohol and drug use or behaving in what is perceived to be a westernised manner;
  • controlling unwanted sexuality, eg. perceived promiscuity, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender;
  • preventing unwanted relationships, eg. outside ethnic, cultural, religious or caste groups;
  • protecting family honour and attempting to strengthen family links;
  • achieving financial gain, eg. ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family;
  • obtaining immigration advantages, ie. by assisting claims for UK citizenship.

What are Forced Marriage Protection Orders?

Section 1 of The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 inserted provisions into the Family Law 1996 enabling the courts to make Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO). A FMPO is used both to prevent forced marriages from occurring, and to protect those who have already been forced into marriage. The order can relate to conduct either within or outside of England and Wales.

An order can include prohibitions, restrictions or requirements to protect a victim from a spouse, family member or anyone involved in the forced marriage. Such involvement may include aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring, encouraging, or assisting someone to force or attempt to force another to marry. FMPOs can last for a specified period of time, or for an indefinite period (eg. until varied or discharged) in the court’s discretion.

If time is of the essence, an emergency order can be applied for.

Who can apply for an FMPO?

An application can be made by:

  • the person who is to be protected by the order, ie. the victim – both Adults and children can apply for a FMPO;
  • a relative or friend;
  • a relevant third party, for instance, someone who is appointed to make applications on behalf of others such as the Police or the local authority;
  • any other person with the permission of the court.

Where can I apply for an FMPO?

An application for a FMPO should be made to the Family Division of the High Court in your area (county courts), or to the High Court in London. When you have received notice of proceedings, a copy must be served on the respondent – this can be done by the court or a friend or relative if necessary.

The application will be heard in private. When considering your application, the court may, where it considers it is just and convenient to do so, make a FMPO even if the respondent has not been given notice of the proceedings. However, the court must have regard to these factors:

  • any risk of significant harm to the person to be protected or another person if the order is not made immediately;
  • whether it is likely that an applicant will be deterred or prevented from pursuing an application if an order is not made immediately;
  • whether there is reason to believe that the respondent is aware of the proceedings but is deliberately evading service;
  • the delay involved in effecting substituted service will cause serious prejudice to the person to be protected or (if a different person) an applicant.

What powers does the Court have?

The court has the power to make a FMPO to protect a person from being forced into a marriage, or who has already been forced into marriage. The court also has the power to add a power of arrest to the order if it believes the respondent has used or threatened violence against the applicant.

How are FMPOs enforced?

Breach of an order made under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 is not a criminal offence. However, where a power of arrest is attached to the order the police have the power to arrest anyone who they have reasonable suspicion to believe is in breach of the order. Anyone arrested for a breach of a FMPO must be brought before the court within a period of 24 hours and face the court’s powers in relation to contempt of court.

Forcing a person into a forced marriage is a criminal offence. On conviction, the individual can be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. In addition, they may be guilty of committing other offences such as:

  • threats to kill;
  • assault;
  • kidnap or abduction;
  • false imprisonment.

What if my application fails, or the order doesn’t sufficiently protect me?

If your application for a FMPO fails, you have the right to appeal if you think a serious mistake has been made – although a fee must be paid.

If you wish to have an order varied or extended, you can apply to court using a standard form – setting out your reasons for wanting it varied or extended.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.