Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from Dr Aisha K. Gill, Southall Black Sisters and Ashiana Network (ASB 37)

We are writing to you in response to the commenting on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime - addressing the practicalities of supporting victims and survivors of forced marriage. We attach responses submitted on behalf of Ashiana Network, Southall Black Sisters, and also the report of a study by Dr Aisha Gill (University of Roehampton) addressing the challenges of supporting victims/survivors in this jurisdiction.

We welcome the fact that the Government is taking the problem of forced marriage seriously. We are all agreed 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 victims 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. The higher standard of proof in the criminal courts will have a significant effect upon the rate of effective and successful prosecutions in forced marriage cases.

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 tha t 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.   Statutory agencies (including the education, health, police and social services) are insufficiently versed in the Government’s own best practice guidelines for dealing with FM 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 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.

July 2013

Prepared 10th July 2013