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New laws to combat forced marriage rejected

13 June 2006

A new specific offence of forcing someone into marriage will not be created after a consultation exercise proved inconclusive.

Respondents to the document 'Forced Marriage: A Wrong not a Right' were split between creating a new offence (34 per cent) or not (37 per cent), although a majority felt that the disadvantages of introducing new specific legislation could outweigh advantages. Respondents' concerns included fears that victims could be isolated, reconciliation with families prevented and the practice of forced marriage would be driven underground.

Significantly, 74 per cent of police, Crown Prosecution Service and Probation Service respondents felt that “existing legislation was sufficient to tackle cases of forced marriage”. All respondents also agreed that if new laws were introduced many families would attempt to get around them by removing potential victims from the UK, whilst 88 per cent thought the expense in creating a new offence would not be justified.

Of the respondents that did support the introduction of a specific criminal offence, the most popular was 'Creating a new offence of facilitating or bearing witness to a marriage which is known or suspected to be forced', which attracted 21.65 per cent support.

Speaking at the publication of summary of responses to the consultation, Home Office minister Baroness Scotland said: “Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence which cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds. This consultation has been very useful in stimulating debate and generating recommendations from those with expertise in the field. 

"Before we consider the possibility of introducing specific legislation, we need to be convinced that it would definitely benefit the victims of forced marriage.”

Instead of beginning the process of introducing new laws to combat forced marriage, the Government has instead said it will take forward three non-legislative recommendations: increasing the level of training for professionals who work in the field , increasing the work do with statutory agencies in sharing best practice, and ensuring existing legislation is fully implemented.

The summary of responses to the Forced marriage Unit consultation can be found at www.fco.gov.uk.

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Divorce Procedures EU & International