Forced Marriages: What are Forced 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 and will undoubtedly involve circumstances of duress. Duress may include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. Traditionally, it was predominately young females who were subject to forced marriages. However, there has been a progressive increase in male individuals being forced into marriage without consent.

How does an arranged marriage differ from a forced marriage?

In arranged marriages the families of both parties take a leading role in arranging the marriage but the choice whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the prospective parties.

Reasons for forced marriages:

There are many reasons why individuals are forced into marriage. Some of the key reasons include:

  • Controlling unwanted behaviour i.e. alcohol and drug use or behaving in what is perceived to be a westernised manner.

  • Controlling unwanted sexuality i.e. perceived promiscuity, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

  • Preventing unwanted relationships i.e. outside ethnic, cultural, religious or caste groups.

  • Protecting family honour and attempting to strengthen family links.

  • Achieving financial gain i.e. ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family.

  • Obtaining immigration advantages i.e. 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) to prevent forced marriages from occurring and to protect those who have already been forced into marriage.

The order can include prohibitions, restrictions or requirements to protect a victim from a spouse, family member or anyone involved. Involvement can include aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring, encouraging, or assisting another person to force or attempt to force a person to marry. FMPO’s can last for a specified time or if the court so desires, set the FMPO for an indefinite period i.e. until varied or discharged. The order can relate to conduct either within or outside of England and Wales.

Who can apply for an FMPO?

The court may make a FMPO on an application being made by:

  • The person who is to be protected by the order.

  • A relevant third party.

  • Any other person with the permission of the court.

  • A Relevant Third Party is someone who is appointed to make applications on behalf of others. Relevant third parties could include organisations such as the Police and Local Authority. Both Adults and children can apply for a FMPO.

Where can I apply for an FMPO?

An application for a FMPO can be made at a number of county courts in England and Wales or at the High Court in London. The court may, in any case where it considers that it is just and convenient to do so, make a forced marriage protection order even though the respondent has not been given such notice of the proceedings. 

However, the court must have regard to the circumstances:

  • 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; and

  • Whether there is reason to believe that the respondent is aware of the proceedings but is deliberately evading service; and

  • The delay involved in effecting substituted service will cause serious prejudice to the person to be protected or (if a different person) an applicant.

Powers of the Court

The court has the power to make a FMPO to protect a person facing forced marriage or who has been forced into marriage. The court also has the power to add an attachment of a power of arrest if it considers that the respondent has used or threatened violence against the person being protected

Enforcement of FMPO’s

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 are in breach of the order. A person arrested for a breach of a FMPO must be brought before the court within a period of 24 hours and will be dealt with under the court’s powers of contempt of court.

Although there is no specific criminal offence of forcing a person into a forced marriage, the forcing parties may be guilty of committing other criminal offences such as:

  • Threats to Kill

  • Assault

  • Kidnap / Abduction

  • False Imprisonment