How does the law protect those facing the prospect of a forced marriage?
A “Forced Marriage” arises where at least one party to the marriage does not consent to the marriage and a level of physical and/or emotional duress is involved. The nature and severity of such duress varies from case to case and can include but is not limited to the following; verbal and physical abuse, threats of harm and unlawful imprisonment, controlling behaviour and more.
A person being subjected to a forced marriage can often feel trapped and isolated, and as though they have no way of expressing their personal views or having a choice over the intended unity. However, help is now available and those being either forced into a marriage, already in a forced marriage or who have someone attempting to force them into a marriage have redress to the Courts.
On the 25 July 2008, The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 1997 came into force and a new section, Part 4A was inserted into The Family Law Act 1996 to offer protection to those facing the prospect of a forced marriage. The Act was implemented with the aim of preventing and deterring forced marriages whilst providing practical remedies to those suffering as a result of such arrangements.
Where there is evidence of a forced marriage, the Court now has a wide range of powers and can make Orders containing numerous prohibitions, restrictions and requirements to ensure that the Applicant is adequately protected. Such prohibitions, restrictions and requirements can include; a) seizing passports, b) protecting a person’s whereabouts, c) forbidding families from certain undertaking actions and d) preventing a person from being taken abroad.
The Human Rights Act 1998 “confers upon men and women of marriageable age the right to marry and found a family according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right” and it is therefore imperative that parties are free to choose their spouse and to conduct their relationships as they, not others, see fit.
How to Fund an Application for a Forced Marriage Protection Order:
On 1st April 2013 access to Public Funding changed and the Legal Aid Agency no longer offers Public Funding for many family and matrimonial disputes.
However, if eligible, Legal Aid is still be available for those seeking a Forced Marriage Protection Order under the Family Law Act 1996, as the Legal Aid Agency and the Government realise the need to offer help and assistance to those people in a vulnerable or harmful situation.
Eligibility for Legal Aid is assessed using a twofold criteria based upon 1) the Applicant’s financial “Means” and 2) the “Merits” of the Applicant’s case. This means that the Applicant not only has to be financially eligible for Public Funding but have a case with strong merits that justifies the use of Public Funds.
If Public Funding is granted for an Applicant, this will cover their Legal and Court Fees or all work undertaken in respect of their matter including preparing and issuing their application, representation at any Court hearings, serving the Respondent with any Orders and all other ancillary correspondence and work required in their case.
If an Applicant is ineligible for Public Funding, their Application for a Forced Marriage Protection Order will need to be funded on a private paying basis and work undertaken will be charged on a “time spent” basis meaning that an Applicant will be charged depending on the amount of work undertaken to deal with their specific case.
The Solicitor dealing with the Applicant’s matter will be able to advise the Applicant of the estimated costs of their proceedings based upon the amount of work required in each particular case.