Empowering respect

Forced marriage is not something I've come across in my twenty-odd year career, but if I ever do I hope it's after the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill has passed into law.

Forced marriage is not expressly prohibited in this country, although I suppose many actions by those attempting to force a marriage could constitute a criminal offence. It is a crime in other countries including, somewhat surprisingly, India and Pakistan. The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 16 November last by Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC and is supported by The Odysseus Trust. The object of the Bill, according to the Trust, "is to provide protection for the victims of forced marriage by means of civil remedies in the family courts", focusing on prevention rather than cure. They go on:

The primary remedy offered by the Bill is an injunction – that is, an order by the court that acts must not take place which will lead to a forced marriage. In making such orders, the court must have regard to all the circumstances including the health, safety and well-being of the victim.

As a secondary remedy, the Bill allows civil proceedings to be brought to obtain compensation where an injunction cannot provide an effective remedy.

By using civil remedies rather than criminal law, the Bill empowers young women and men to win respect for their human rights.

The Bill had it's second reading on the 26th January, and will be considered further in March 2007 by Grand Committee in the House of Lords, where amendments will be discussed. Possible changes to the Bill are set out in this consultation paper, the most interesting of which is aimed at allowing either party to a forced marriage to seek a nullity petition even after three years from the marriage, thereby removing the 'stigma' of having to seek a divorce.