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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

04 FEB 2008

Dr Ruth Gaffney-Rhys: Developments in the Field of Forced Marriage

Dr Ruth Gaffney-Rhys, University of Wales

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act was passed by the UK Parliament on 26 July 2007 and comes into force in England and Wales in the autumn of 2008. The primary purpose of the legislation is 'to prevent and deter forced marriages and to provide practical remedies' (HL Deb 26 Jan 2007 c1322). This reflects the proactive approach that has been adopted by the English courts in recent years.

The UK Government and the English courts have continually stressed the distinction between forced marriages and arranged marriages. A bona fide arranged marriage is one where the families of one or both parties take a leading role in choosing the spouse but the bride and groom provide free and full consent.

In England and Wales, the traditional remedy for forced marriage is a decree of nullity granted under section 12(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 on the ground that the petitioner did not validly consent to the marriage as a consequence of duress. However, a decree of nullity is clearly a reactive rather than a preventive remedy. If the courts are made aware of the risk of a forced marriage they can use their statutory and inherent powers to prevent the marriage from taking place, which is clearly preferable to the annulment of a marriage.

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 sends a clear message that forcing someone to marry is unacceptable and provides the victim with practical and accessible remedies. It is a significant improvement on the collage of laws that can currently be utilised to prevent and respond to forced marriages, which do not emphasise that the practice is unacceptable.

In this article Dr Gaffney-Rhys discuses developments in the field of forced marriage and provides some background to the drafting of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. For the full article see [2008] International Family Law, Issue 1.

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