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International Family Law

The leading authority on international family law

25 MAY 2012

The criminalisation of forced marriage

Michael Edwards

Barrister, 4 Paper Buildings

The Government launched a Home Office led consultation in December 2011 to look at whether or not to create a new criminal offence of forcing a person into a marriage. The Government had announced last September that it had no plans to criminalise forced marriage. On 15 September 2011, Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone told an interviewer: ‘In terms of criminalisation, that is not on the government's agenda. Yes there have been calls for it from a couple of quarters but not overall and our judgment at this moment in time is that it would not be helpful'.

The Government's policy now appears to have shifted, however, and there is considerable momentum building towards criminalisation. A Downing Street memo leaked to the Telegraph in September 2011 warned that the Government was losing support among female voters and recommended a U-turn on making forced marriage a crime. The document recommended that ministers should ‘reconsider our decision not to criminalise forced marriage. This is risky territory and there would be issues about reporting if we went for criminalisation - because the signal sent by opting not to criminalise is a bad one.'

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