Monday 16 June 2014 marked a momentous occasion in the fight against forced marriages. Yesterday, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 will come into force, criminalising those who seek to force another person to marry.

Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim. Every day 3 people within the United Kingdom seek help in relation to forced marriage, however, by its very nature forced marriage often goes unreported. Forced marriage is a fundamental breach of human rights which robs people of their ability to choose their future. The criminalisation is a landmark moment in the campaign against forcing individuals to marry. In particular, the #freedom2choose campaign lead by the Freedom Charity in conjunction with the Home Secretary Teresa May, Forced Marriage Unit and Police, have been extremely vocal in their desire for criminalisation.

A forced marriage is defined as ‘a marriage without the consent of one or both parties and where duress is a factor’. Duress can include a range of factors such as physical, emotional, psychological and financial abuse. A contrast must be made between forced marriages and arranged marriages. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage but the choice whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the prospective spouses.

Prior to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, forcing a person into a marriage was not a criminal offence, with victims restricted to seeking protection through the civil courts. The effectiveness of such redress has been debated since the introduction of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. This debate centered on the argument of whether the criminalisation of forced marriages would result in a reduction of the amount of people forced into marriage.

On the recommendation of the Forced Marriages Unit, the criminalisation of forced marriages has now become a reality.

A person commits a crime under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 if they:

  • Use violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and
  • Believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.

Victims will benefit from the Act’s clear wide-ranging scope. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 crucially covers ‘any other form of coercion’, whether this be physical, emotional or financial abuse, opening up this protection to a whole range of individuals who may have previously been forced to suffer such abuse without protection.

If an individual is found to be guilty of the offence of forced marriage, they may receive a sentence of up to 7 years imprisonment.
Crucially, the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 has not taken away the civil protection available under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. This provides those who have been forced, or are being forced into, a marriage with an option on how they seek protection, through either the civil or criminal courts. This provides victims who were previously robbed of their ability to choose their future, to select the best possible option for them and their circumstances.

Please be aware that both the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 do not require the forced marriage to have taken place before a person can seek protection. Protection can be sought as soon as any form of coercion is placed upon someone, regardless of when this takes place.

Forced marriage or honour based violence are frightening and distressing for everyone involved. Newcastle based David Gray Solicitors LLP understand that people seeking advice are likely to be feeling a range of emotions including anxiety, fear and uncertainty about what the future holds.

Their experienced team offers a highly skilled, effective and sympathetic service that will listen to your concerns in an understanding, non-judgmental way and discuss with you the options you may take. They work with both victims of forced marriage and those who are accused of this.

They also work with various external support services to ensure that you receive the practical and emotional help you need. For further information, please visit www.davidgray.co.uk.