A forced marriage is defined by the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 as marriage without the full and free consent of both parties. The Act, which came into force on 25 November 2008, creates specialist courts designed to prevent forced marriages occurring and to protect those individuals who have been forced into marriage without their consent. These courts are, however, restricted in terms of providing remedies once the marriage has taken place as they do not have the power to annul marriages and forcing an individual to marry against their will has not been made a criminal offence.

The courts can prevent forced marriages from taking place through the use of Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs) and, where there has been a true threat of physical violence, a power of arrest can be attached to an order. Conditions attached to orders can direct people to stop intimidation and prevent them from taking people abroad. They can also impose a duty to give the details of the whereabouts of a missing person and to surrender passports. A person in contempt of an order may face up to two years’ imprisonment.

A FMPO can be applied for by anyone who believes they are at risk of being forced to marry. Relatives, professionals and interested parties, however, can only apply for an order on behalf of the victim with the permission of the court. In addition, Relevant Third Parties (RTPs), such as local authorities (once sufficiently ready to undergo the role), will be entitled to apply for an order without the court’s permission. Independent domestic violence advisers attached to the criminal courts may also be able to act as RTPs, depending on the outcome of a pilot study due to be carried out by the Ministry Of Justice.

Unusually, solicitors acting for a minor can apply directly to the court without the minor needing to have an adult ‘litigation friend’ to represent them.

It is hoped that the introduction of the Act will make it easier for potential victims of arranged marriages to come forward in the knowledge that there are systems in place to help them. It is also hoped that the legislation will make it clear to perpetrators that forced marriage is an identifiable civil wrong, bringing with it legal consequences. Advisors to the Government believe that there has been an under-reporting of such cases to date. On the first day the Act was in force, two successful applications for orders were made, one of which involved a 23-year-old woman who was on the verge of being flown to Pakistan for a forced marriage.