Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from Ashiana Network (ASB 33)

We are writing to you in response to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Bill - addressing the practicalities of supporting victims and survivors of forced marriage. We attach our response to the Forced Marriage consultation in 2012 for your perusal ( Annex A – not published ) .

We welcome the fact that the Government is taking the problem of forced marriage seriously. We agree that it constitutes an appalling violation of an individual’s fundamental human rights. We support the proposal contained in the consultation to criminalise any breaches of the civil protection orders to bring this area of law in line with the law relating to domestic violence where breaches of civil non-molestation orders are treated as criminal offences.  We also support the introduction of forced marriage as an aggravating feature in sentencing of criminal offences.

The primary purpose of any legislation in respect of forced marriage must be to protect victims. Many victim s are reluctant to report their experiences to the authorities for fear that their family will face criminal sanctions. Victims often need to be reassured that the protection they seek can be obtained in the family courts, and, thus, that their families will not be prosecuted, before they will agree to make a formal statement. The creation of a specific criminal offence will prevent victims from coming forward to obtain essential assistance and will directly impact upon their access to justice as they will be unlikely to invoke existing civil remedies. Women who pursue legal processes may withdraw or their accounts may be inconsistent; they are then deemed to be wasting police time.

As a result of our extensive first hand case-handling experience, we have observed the vulnerabilities of forced marriage are often so great and the complexities of high risk situations being such that the victims do not have the capacity or desire to withstand rigorous legal proceedings, in particular criminal proceedings where the Crown Prosecution Service need to satisfy the high criminal burden of proof, namely "beyond reasonable doubt".

There are problems around current practice that cannot be solved by legislation alone. A disproportionate focus on enforcement has a much more harmful and damaging impact on women and girls as the interventions often take place when women are in crisis.

The significant stumbling blocks to an effective response include poor awareness amongst key professionals, a lack of mandatory training, historically poor levels of investment in grassroots provision, not responding to forced marriage as part of mainstream child protection responses, a lack of prevention and early intervention work in schools and other community-based settings, a lack of monitoring and implementation of the statutory guidelines.

Statutory agencies have a legal duty to ensure safeguarding policies and practices are implemented. All statutory services should fully comprehend the familial and community dynamics associated with forced marriage, which would then equip them to assess and effectively execute those duties. We know that safeguarding duties related to forced marriage are under-utilised and there is no consistency of practice or approach. It is imperative to establish consistent safeguarding mechanisms, so risk can be assessed and managed not only for the woman /girl at risk of forced marriage but also to ensure the safety and protection of any other woman /girl in the family or community that may also be at risk from threats, coercion and other forms of violence.

A consistent multi-agency response, embedding forced marriage into VAWG policy and practice is urgently required to improve current approaches. The Missing Link (2011) report provides evidence of promising practice which if more consistently implemented would improve detection, reporting and interventions. The report refers to our schools which work to prevent forced marriage, at a cost of £31,000, resulted in 95% of girls feeling more confident about forming healthy relationships and 93% feeling more confident in telling someone if they experienced violence. The programme also prevented a number of forced marriages from taking place, while delivering a range of other positive outcomes for students and staff.

The recent creation of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 within existing domestic violence legislation in England and Wales was a positive development: the increasing number of applications for  Forced Marriage Protection Orders (far exceeding the numbers anticipated), is a strong indication that the legislation is effective. It is significant to note that domestic violence is prosecuted under a range of separate offences and that there is no existing or proposed specific criminal offence of domestic violence. In the case of FM too, the Crown Prosecution Service should be prosecuting the large number of serious criminal offences already committed by perpetrators during the course of a forced marriage, which include rape, kidnap and assault. Upon conviction, the circumstances of forced marriage should be introduced as an aggravating feature at the sentencing stage.  The Crown Prosecution Service report that since they have developed a system for flagging cases of forced marriage and have trained specialist prosecutors on forced marriage and honour based violence, the confidence of prosecutors has improved and levels of prosecution on existing offences associated with forced marriage have improved.

Statutory agencies (including the education, health, police and social services) are insufficiently versed in the Government’s own best practice guidelines for dealing with forced marriage cases: further training for relevant professionals is needed as a matter of some urgency to ensure that existing criminal and civil remedies including child safeguarding mechanisms are used effectively.

If there is money available in these times of austerity, we are of the view that this would be better spent on the initiatives outlined above and in funding the refuge and support services which are essential to a victim being able to access justice in the first place and which are central to victims overcoming the multiple traumas they experience as a result of being threatened or forced into marriage.

We will not effectively address forced marriage without adequate resources for front-line provision and an integrated multi-agency approach which promotes the need for early-identification, intervention and prevention.

July 2013

Prepared 5th July 2013