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Government to consult on criminalising forced marriages

10 October 2011

The government is to consult on criminalising forced marriages. The prime minister is set to announce the move in a speech on immigration later today.

It is understood that the Home Office will lead on the consultation, with the help of the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign Office, which is responsible for the Forced Marriages Unit.

Under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, implemented the following year, courts may make orders to stop marriages happening and those who break them can be arrested for contempt of court.

However, it was not until earlier this year that the first person was jailed for breaching an order, Lydia Erhire from Nigeria (see, 15 February 2011).

The home affairs select committee called for forcing people to marry against their will to be made a criminal offence in May (see, 23 May 2011).

Lawyers representing the victims of forced marriages are divided on the issue. Cris McCurley, head of the family law department at Ben Hoare Bell in Newcastle, argued that victims should have a choice whether to report an incident to the police or go to the courts for a civil order.

However, Anne-Marie Hutchinson, partner at Dawson Cornwell, said the Forced Marriages Act should be allowed to bed down before any further changes to the law were made.

She warned that victims concerned about the impact of criminal sanctions on members of their family might be deterred from coming forward.

In a separate development, Baroness Scotland, the former Attorney General, launched an international domestic violence charity at Coutts & Co last week.

The Global Foundation for Elimination of Domestic Violence is designed to share knowledge, promote best practice and provide research and expertise.

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