In oral evidence given to the Commons Select Committee on Domestic Violence on 22 January, District Judge Marilyn Mornington said that there were probably 'thousands' of unknown forced marriages of British women each year.
The transcript of uncorrected oral evidence from the meeting reveals District Judge Mornington told the Committee that she was informed by the Forced Marriage Unit that three girls a week were being brought back from Islamabad as victims of forced marriage. The district judge told the committee that this was the tip of the iceberg".
The Shadow Home Secretary and committee member, David Davis asked "how many more are being put into forced marriages we do not find out about", to which District Judge Mornington answered that there were "thousands".
The district judge told the Committee that the issue was a "huge problem" and that as well as forced marriages occurring in the Pakistani community, there were also cases in the Kurdish and Iraqi communities.
Putting forward suggestions for improvement, District Judge Mornington said: "We need a multi-agency risk assessment tool for all agencies on issues of forced marriage and honour-based violence and mend the present domestic violence protocols and have training programmes for all agencies who have experience of domestic violence to encompass these issues. We need education and key teachers in every school effectively to recognise and assist people who are likely to suffer this. We need national education programmes and we need to work within the communities through the Department of Communities and Local Government and DfES.
"We need a national strategy to identify the large number of pupils, particularly girls, missing from school registers who have been taken off the register and are said to be home schooled which leads to these issues.
"Airport staff and others staff need to be trained to recognise girls who are being taken out of the country."
In November last year, Justice Minister Bridget Prentice announced that the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 will come into effect next autumn. Where a forced marriage has or is about to take place, the new law will enable courts to make orders to protect the victim or the potential victim and help remove them from that situation. It also provides recourse for those already forced into marriage. Failure to comply could lead to imprisonment.
Three consultations relating to forced marriage are currently ongoing. In December last year, the Ministry of Justice published a consultation on the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 in respect of how to enable orders to be made in circumstances when victims feel unable or unwilling to make an application themselves. In January, the Home Affairs Committee launched an eConsultation to hear from victims who have direct experience of domestic violence, including forced marriages and 'honour-based' violence. And last Friday the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on draft court rules for the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. The consultations close on the 14 March, 29 February and 24 April 2008 respectively.