The criminal offence of Forced Marriage is welcome but we now need a criminal offence of Domestic Violence

As from the 16th June 2014 forced marriage becomes a criminal offence. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 creates two criminal offences

 1.         Forced marriage in its own right and

2.         Breaching a civil forced marriage protection order.

A perpetrator is guilty of forced marriage if he

a)            uses violence, threats or any form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage and

b)            Believes, or ought to reasonably believe that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.

If the victim lacks mental capacity to marry then there is no need to show violence, threats or coercion.  The law has been drafted to make it a criminal offence for forced marriage to take place outside the UK which is essential for this particular crime.  It should however be remembered that not all forced marriages take place abroad and that they also happen in the UK.

The law defines a marriage as both a civil or religious ceremony which is important and the Act states that the conduct of the perpetrator may be directed at the victim or another person.  This would therefore cover a perpetrator making threats to or assaulting the victim’s mother if the child didn’t agree to the marriage for example.

The sanction for those guilty of forced marriage is up to 7 years imprisonment which reflects the seriousness of this type of offence.  It would also not prevent additional charges such as threats to kill or assault being brought in addition to the forced marriage charge if the circumstances warranted it.

There are estimated to be approximately 10,000 cases of forced marriage in the UK every year and 12 “honour” killings so the seriousness of it should not be underestimated.  I see clients regarding this issue every week and know that publicity and education are also essential in addition to the law in order to change people’s behaviour and save lives.

The second criminal offence is breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order.  Forced marriage protection orders have been in place since 2008 and I have taken out dozens of Orders on behalf of victims both male and female.  Breach of a forced marriage protection order however has always been a civil issue rather than a criminal one.  This has never made any sense to me as breach of a domestic violence non molestation order has been a criminal offence since 2007 and therefore singling out forced marriage as being different from domestic violence seem to be simply an issue of misplaced political correctness which made forced marriage seem less serious than other forms of domestic violence.

Breach of a forced marriage protection order will now be brought into line with domestic violence injunctions and perpetrators face up to 5 years imprisonment.

Arguments have been raised that criminalising forced marriage in either way will simply put victims off contacting the police.  I do not believe that this will be the case.  This argument was used with regard to arresting perpetrators for domestic violence offences in the 1970’s and 1980’s and whilst in an ideal world no one wants their family members to go to prison neither do they want their family members to abuse them.  It is essential that the devastating impact of forced marriage is reflected in the criminal law and I therefore welcome the new laws.  Karma Nirvana run a helpline assisting victims and have been campaigning for this for many years.

The legislation makes it clear that forced marriage can be committed not just with violence or threats of violence but also “coercion”.  This is essential as many cases of forced marriage are committed by using emotional blackmail and psychological abuse and it is essential that the police have the means to prosecute this type of behaviour.

It does however highlight the need for a similar offence of coercive control or psychological abuse to enable the police to deal with domestic violence.

There is currently no criminal offence of domestic violence and this is something that Paladin, Women’s Aid and The Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation have been campaigning for as it makes no sense whatsoever to have this lacuna when we know the damage coercive control can cause.  It is essential that we can prosecute this type of behaviour before it becomes physical.

The Government has recognised that coercive behaviour should legislated against with regard to forced marriages, the proposed “Cinderella law “ in relation to children so why not adult domestic violence victims?

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