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(Family Division, Holman J, 26 July 2013)
The 16-year-old girl was of Muslim Pakistani origin and contacted the police informing them that her mother had assaulted her and that she was concerned she would be taken to Pakistan and forced into marriage there. The girl instructed solicitors and at a without notice hearing a forced marriage protection order was granted.
Three months later the mother and child appeared in person requesting the FMPO to be discharged so that they could travel to Pakistan where the grandmother was ill. The judge refused to believe the story and left the FMPO intact.
Within weeks the girl had taken part in a marriage ceremony in London to a man she knew only by sight who was a relative. Sexual activity had since taken place which the girl claimed was not consensual. The police arrested the mother and a paternal aunt within the terms of the FMPO. The police later issued formal applications for committal of the mother and aunt for contempt of court.
The mother, the aunt and the girl claimed that the marriage was voluntary and that they did not realise that the order prevented any marriage, not just forced.
The question arose whether the police force could apply for a person to be committed to prison for contempt of court for breach of an FMPO when the police themselves were not the applicants to the order.
Until Parliament decided to provide a proper statutory basis for them to do so, the police had no standing to, and could not act as applicants to, apply for and press for committal in these circumstances. It was important to stress that breach of an FMPO was not of itself currently a criminal offence, although the circumstances may also involve a range of criminal activities, such as assaults, kidnapping or false imprisonment. If the police had evidence of any criminal offences, then it was open to them, in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service, to prosecute.
The facts and circumstances of this case revealed a grave weakness in the existing forced marriage protection order machinery as enacted in Part 4A of the Family Law Act 1996. It was essential that FMPOs had real teeth and that people bound by them, or having notice of them, appreciated that they were capable of being enforced and will be enforced even though the applicant young person may not seek enforcement himself or herself.
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