THE ODYSSEUS TRUST
Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act
We are pleased to report that the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill received Royal Assent on 26 July 2007 and came into force on 25 November 2008. The Act can be found here. A statement explaining the purpose of the legislation and quoting Lord Lester can be found on the Ministry of Justice’s website here.
The object and purpose of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act is to provide protection for the victims of forced marriage by means of civil remedies in the family courts. It seeks to empower and protect vulnerable women and men against serious abuse, involving violence, threats of violence and other forms of improper coercion. The Bill was introduced as a Private Member's Bill in the House of Lords by Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC. It was prepared together with the Southall Black Sisters and a team of leading family lawyers with practical experience of working in this sensitive field.
Here are links to the Bill as introduced and its Explanatory Notes:
What is forced marriage?
A forced marriage is one conducted without the valid consent of one party or both parties and is a marriage in which duress – either physical or psychological – is a factor. A forced marriage is very different from an arranged marriage. An arranged marriage is entered into freely by both people, although their families may take a leading role in the choice of partner. Forced marriage, by contrast, is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence.
According to the Government, “some 300 cases of forced marriage are currently reported to the Forced Marriage Unit at the FCO each year. Many more cases come to the attention of the police, social services, and health, education and voluntary services. More still go unreported. Many cases involve children and young people.”
The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill
The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 16 November 2006 and had its Second Reading debate on Friday 26 January 2007. On 15 January 2007, prior to the Second Reading debate, Lord Lester of Herne Hill and the Southall Black Sisters hosted a meeting in the Houses of Parliament to discuss the Bill, to which interested individuals and organizations were invited.
The Bill received wide support from all sides of the House in a wide-ranging and significant debate. Several organizations distributed briefings in support of the Bill, including Liberty, the Children's Rights Alliance for England, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
Consultation on amendments to Bill
Following Second Reading of the Bill, the Odysseus Trust held a public consultation about various proposals to amend the Bill. The consultation paper was published on 7 February 2007 and was distributed widely among interested organizations and individuals. We asked some 14 questions about ways in which the Bill could be amended and improved. In order to assist understanding of the changes, we distributed a mock-up version of how the Bill would look if the changes were made.
The consultation period ended on 9 March 2007. We received 29 responses from a wide ranges of groups and individuals, including women's groups, women's refuges, social workers, family law practitioners, religious groups, the Bar Council, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. We are very grateful to all the respondents for taking the time to comment on the Bill, and were encouraged that the consultation process demostrated overwhelming support for the Bill.
A link to a summary of the consultation responses can be found HERE
A copy of the consultation can be found HERE
A copy of the mock-up version of how the Bill would look if these changes were made, can be found HERE
Government support for the Bill
Following the Second Reading debate, the Government indicated its support for the Bill. At Prime Minister’s Questions on 7 March 2007, the Prime Minister stated that “because we fully support the aims of the private Member’s Bill on forced marriage, we are looking to see how we can support the Bill and make sure that it is in order”.
The Bill was considered in Grand Committee on 10 May 2007 and substantial amendments were made to the Bill with the support of Lord Lester and the Government, including incorporation of the Bill as a new Part 4A of the Family Law Act 1996. The amendments took into account the views expressed in responses to the Odysseus Trust consultation, including incorporation within the Family Law Act 1996, statutory backing for guidance on forced marriage, and provision for third parties to be able to apply for orders under the Bill.
The Bill was introduced as a Government Bill in the House of Commons on 21 June 2007. The Bill as brought from the Lords can be found HERE. The Ministry of Justice prepared Explanatory Notes to accompany the Bill in the House of Commons. The Explanatory Notes refer directly to the consultation conducted by the Odysseus Trust on possible changes to the Bill.
Relevant Third Party Consultation
On December 2007 the Ministry of Justice published a consultation paper regarding the role of the relevant third party as referred to in section 63C of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. This provision allows so-called relevant third parties to apply for a prtection order on behalf of a victim of forced marriage. The fact that an application may be made by a relevant third party is one of the innovative features of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act. This eases the burden on victims and potential victims in seeking protection from the courts.
The Trust's response to the consultation included: (i) evidence regarding the circumstances in which it is appropriate for a third party to bring an application; (ii) what type of organizations should act as relevant third parties; (iii) the type of funding and resources that relevant third parties, including the Forced Marriage Unit, should receive; (iV) what safeguards should be in place to ensure that a relevant third party acts in the best interests of the victim; (v) how the court administration can be improved to meet the needs of those who use the Act.
Last updated July 2009