New laws came into force this month which criminalise forced marriage.

Under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, new provisions have been inserted into the existing Family Law Act 1996. In a nutshell, the new legislation makes compelling someone into marriage against their will a specific criminal offence for the first time and carries up to seven years imprisonment. It also makes it possible to prosecute perpetrators from other countries where a British national is being forced to wed.

Section 120 of the Act makes the breach of a ‘forced marriage protection order’ a criminal offence. Such orders are issued to families suspected of planning a forced marriage. There will be a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment for anyone found guilty of such a breach.

Both the individuals concerned and third parties, such as relatives or police officers, can apply for forced marriage protection orders.

The use of violence, threats and coercion in order to force someone into a marriage has also been criminalised under Section 121. This more serious offence will carry a maximum penalty of seven years behind bars.

The law will cover physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse in relation to unwanted marriage, and is designed to help both male and female victims.

The legislation follows a consultation published in December 2011 which sought views on the matter and found that a majority were in favour of the creation of a new offence. The government concluded that criminal offences were necessary, in addition to the civil regime, to act as an effective deterrent and to assist with properly punishing perpetrators.

Whilst it is hoped this new legislation will have a positive impact, some have warned that it could in fact deter victims from coming forward because they do not want to see parents and family members jailed. In light of these concerns it is therefore imperative that victims receive full and proper support from all agencies involved if a report is made.

It is hoped that these protective measures will go some way in helping to prevent forced marriages taking place, however steps can also be taken to have such marriages annulled in cases which may slip through the net. Our forced marriage solicitors can provide you with legal advice on forced marriage. If you are worried that you will be forced to marry, or are already a victim for forced marriage, our team of family law solicitors can help. We have offices in Blackburn, Burnley, Accrington and Manchester. Please get in contact with us today for further advice.

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