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Family Law

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19 NOV 2014

London Borough of Croydon v S & S [2014] EWHC 3550 (Fam)

London Borough of Croydon v S & S [2014] EWHC 3550 (Fam)
(Family Division, Holman J, 9 October 2014)

The full judgment is available below.

A forced marriage protection order was continued on an interim basis until a full hearing could determine whether the local authority concerns that the young woman was being forced into marriage in Afghanistan were made out.



Neutral Citation Number: [2014] EWHC 3550 (Fam)
Case No. ZC14F05011

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
FAMILY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand
London
WC2A 2LL

Date: Thursday, 9 October 2014

Before:

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE HOLMAN
(sitting in public)

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LONDON BOROUGH OF CROYDON
Applicants

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S and S
Respondents

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Digital Tape Transcription by: John Larking Verbatim Reporters (Verbatim Reporters and Tape Transcribers) Suite 91, Temple Chambers, 3-7 Temple Avenue London EC4Y 0HP. Tel: 020 7404 7464 Fax: 020 7404 7443 DX: 13 Chancery Lane LDE

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MR A PERKINS appeared on behalf of the Applicants
Mr S, Mrs S and Ms S appeared in person

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JUDGMENT

MR JUSTICE HOLMAN
:

[1] On 7 October 2014 I was sitting as the High Court applications judge. The London Borough of Croydon made a without notice application to me for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. I was persuaded to make an order on that day in far-reaching terms. In view of the gravity of the order, which effectively restrains both parents and the three children concerned from leaving England and Wales, I fixed a first return date here, today, 9 October 2014. That order has been served upon the parents, and they have both attended here today, each assisted by Pashto interpreters. Also in attendance is their adult daughter S, who is aged almost 19. She speaks good English and has been able to communicate directly with me in English. I stress, however, that she herself is not a respondent to these proceedings. She remains in possession of her own passport or passports, and is completely free to come and go as she pleases.

[2] The background to this matter is that this Afghanistani family lived for an appreciable period of time in Norway. Indeed some of them may, as I understand it, be Norwegian citizens. However, for the last year or so, the mother and father and three young children, i.e. a daughter aged 11, a son aged 2, and another girl, who is said to be related to them but not their daughter, also aged 2, have lived here in England. The Forced Marriage Protection Unit of the Metropolitan Police have been very concerned indeed that criminal offences may have been, or were planned to be, committed upon some, at any rate, of these children. As a result, the passports of the parents have been retained by the police for several months since about last April, and there were also bail conditions which included restrictions against arranging or forcing any of these children into marriage. But, very recently, the Metropolitan Police decided that there were no grounds for prosecuting, and accordingly planned to return the retained passports and, of course, bring the bail conditions to an end. So it was that, after liaison between the police and the London Borough of Croydon, the present proceedings were commenced earlier this week.

[3] There is a statement in support by a social worker, Mr Tom Donovan, a redacted version of which has been supplied to the family. The investigations of the local authority are not yet concluded.

[4] Most heavily today, Mr Alastair Perkins, who appears on behalf of the local authority, has emphasised to me the contents of a decision dated 11 July 2008 of some public body, or even court, in Norway. I stress that I have no idea as to the reliability or otherwise of the contents of this document. All I can do today is take it at face value. It primarily relates to the eldest daughter of this family, also S, who was born in May 1992. She is now, therefore, aged 22, but was then aged about 17. The document records that: “The girl stated that she has for a long time been exposed to pressures from her parents to go to Afghanistan, with the intention of being forcibly married. The plan was that the family would go on a 14-day vacation, but S would stay there for 6 months, before she comes home as a married woman.” The document continues:

“The girl talks about violence against her from the family, mother, father, brother and grandmother. This has increased during the past month and has been happening on a daily basis. The girl said that her parents told her that she would be killed if she would not travel, because this will bring dishonour to the family…”

Further on, the document states that the relevant Children and Family Services in Norway first had contact with this girl and her family in 2005, after concern of the school health service:

“The reasons included information about violence and intimidation, including death threats, isolation of the girl, family’s monitoring of the girl, and a threat that the girl would be sent back to Afghanistan…”

Further on, the document states:

“The girl said that after the emergency placement in 2005, the mother repeatedly told her that if S would contact the authorities again, her father will ‘Take the girl to Trondheim and cut off her head.’”

Further on, under a heading “Assessment”, the following appears: “The girl appears to be credible during the meeting.” Further still:

“It is considered that the family, through any form of contact, is able to apply pressure and put forth threats so that the girl could not stand the situation… Without doubt, there is a major conflict between the girl and her family…”

[5] I stress again that I personally have absolutely no idea as to the reliability or otherwise of any of that. That is a very second or third-hand narrative, based upon things allegedly stated by a girl then aged 17. I note, however, the comment that “The girl appears to be credible during the meeting.” I stress also that all of that really relates to the eldest daughter S. She is not currently living with the family, and it may of course be that circumstances were different in relation to her than in relation to others in the family. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this short hearing today, the contents of that document are such that I cannot ignore them.

[6] It seems to me that there is a serious situation here that requires to be more fully investigated. The parents were only served yesterday. They have had no opportunity to instruct lawyers. They have had no opportunity to put in evidence in answer. This hearing was listed as a short one-hour hearing. It has already very greatly exceeded that duration, but I simply cannot give longer, in view of other cases listed today, one of which is no less, if not more, complicated than this one.

[7] There is undoubtedly real urgency here, for the adult daughter S, who is present in court, says that she is planning to get married in Afghanistan on Sunday 26 October 2014, which is less than 3 weeks away. She stresses, and the local authority appear to have accepted, that her intended marriage is not in any way a forced one, nor, she says, even an arranged one. At all events, there is no application by the local authority in any way to stand in the way of S marrying anybody whom she wishes and proposes to marry. Understandably, S would like at least her mother to be able to travel to Afghanistan to participate in her wedding and, she says, her brother, the 2-year old boy. The local authority very strongly resists that, for they do not, frankly, trust this family an inch. They consider that if any parent is allowed out of England and Wales, there is a real risk that, by some means or another, these children will also be spirited out of England and Wales.

[8] I cannot adjudicate on these issues today. I have managed to obtain from the court one clear day on Monday 20 October 2014, when there can be a much fuller hearing. That will give to the local authority a little longer in which to assemble further evidence. It will enable CAFCASS Legal to participate, I hope, as guardian on behalf of these children. It will enable the children to seek legal advice of their own and put in evidence of their own. Monday 20 October is still six days before Sunday 26 October, and if at that hearing the court decides that at any rate the mother, who is the first respondent to this application, should be permitted to travel to Afghanistan, there will still be time for her to do so. But so far as today is concerned, I consider that I would be in dereliction of my protective duties towards these vulnerable young children if I did not substantially continue for a further 10 days or so the order I made on Tuesday. For those reasons, there will be an order in the terms already discussed.

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