A judge has said the forced marriage of a Muslim woman with learning difficulties should be annulled and condemned the “insulated” families who arrange them.
By Martin Beckford, Home Affairs Editor, The Telegraph
5:00PM BST 16 Aug 2012
She said video of the wedding ceremony showed the bride was “almost comatose” and needed help to repeat vows she did not understand, while her relatives had made “false and misleading” statements about her condition.
And the judge brushed aside claims by the woman’s parents that having her marriage annulled would bring shame upon their family, in a case that was even considered at by the Government’s most senior lawyer, the Attorney General.
Mrs Justice Parker said that forcing marriage on someone who lacks mental capacity is a “gross interference” with their dignity and autonomy, particularly as it means having sex and possibly becoming pregnant without being able to consent.
Under the far-reaching powers of the Court of Protection, which can make life-or-death decisions on behalf of those deemed unable to understand them, the judge ruled that the woman’s foreign marriage should not be recognised as valid in England. She also declared it would be in the woman’s “best interests” for a nullity application to be issued.
“The communities where this is likely to happen also need to be told, loud and clear, that if a person, whether male or female, enters into a marriage when they do not have the capacity to understand what marriage is, its nature and duties, or its consequences, or to understand sexual relations, that that marriage may not be recognised, that sexual relations will constitute a criminal offence, and that the courts have the power to intervene.”
In 2003 she married a cousin in Bangladesh and after two failed attempts he was granted a spousal visa in 2009, allowing him to move in with his wife at her family home in an English town.
“Eventually” the local authority found out about the situation and police obtained a Forced Marriage Protection order, leading to experts giving evidence on her capacity.
The judge said the council has “accepted its failures” while the woman’s GP had not raised concerns despite being asked on at least three occasions about “marriage and pregnancy”.
At a hearing in 2010 the judge ruled, “in the face of very strong resistance” from relatives, that DD lacked the capacity to marry or consent to sex and that it was unlawful for her husband to have intercourse with her.
Evidence was then considered as to whether or not the marriage should be annulled, leading to the latest ruling.
The judge said the woman lived in a “very traditional family” in a “close-knit community” that was not integrated with other Bengalis in the area.
“Her parents are very largely insulated from mainstream English society and are mistrustful of non-Bengalis. They do not communicate well in English: her mother understands and speaks almost none. They are devout Muslims.”
The judge said DD was a “loved and valued member of her family and that her parents are devoted to her”, and that in their culture it is seen as parents’ duty to arrange marriages and find spouses for disabled children.
Her mother, father and husband “begged” the judge not to quash the marriage as “there would be considerable stigma in Bangladesh for them”.
But Mrs Justice Parker insisted the bride “does not have even the most basic understanding of marriage” and she “rejected” her family’s account of how the wedding came about.
She said the union had “exposed her to great risk” and led to family tensions as well as conflict with social services who look after her.