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Court of Protection refuses to annul arranged marriage

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Last week another difficult and controversial case came before the Court of Protection, reported in the Telegraph. The case involved a woman who was the subject of an arranged marriage to a man with severe mental disabilities.

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council applied to the Court for it to annul the marriage or declare it to not be recognised because he lacked the requisite capacity to consent to the marriage.

However, it is reported that the woman begged the Court not to annul the marriage as it would ‘consign her to permanent spinsterhood and ostracism by the Sikh community’.

She said that the marriage had ‘destroyed her chances of a happy life’ but that it would be ‘culturally impossible’ for her to have a relationship with another man.

Mr Justice Holman stressed to her that if she did have ‘any form of sexual intimacy’ with him, her husband would be the victim of a criminal offence and she would face life imprisonment.

The woman did not meet her husband before their wedding day, which is often the case with arranged marriages, and said that she only realised that ‘he was not like a normal person’ after the ceremony. The husband currently resides in a care home, and is said to benefit from his wife’s regular visits.

In handing down his judgment, Mr Justice Holman said: “Within the area of this particular local authority there are a number of incapacitated adults who have been the subject of arranged or forced marriages, and that it is important to send a strong signal to the Muslim and Sikh communities within their area (and, indeed, elsewhere) that arranged marriages, where one party is mentally incapacitated, simply will not be tolerated, and that the marriages will be annulled.”

However, the Judge refused to annul the marriage, saying: “Whilst marital sex and cohabitation are, of course, normal incidents of a normal marriage between people of normal capacity, neither is essential to a marriage.”

The Judge therefore took the view that it would not be in the parties’ best interests to annul the marriage, and allowed it to continue.

By Sophie Maloney, human rights law & civil liberties