In Islam, a woman’s consent has to be obtained for marriage.
This was a truly liberating right, as it was given at a time when families arranged marriages to align power and fortunes.
In spite of being set free by Islam so long ago, many women – from the Indian sub-continent in particular – are still becoming victims of forced marriages today.
The family forces a woman to marry a man of their choice, often from ‘back home’, and her wishes are overridden.
The woman is stuck in a loveless, miserable marriage.
Once she becomes aware that such a marriage is not acceptable under Islam, she can obtain a simple annulment from the Sharia Council in the UK.
Under English law, we help her obtain a Nullity decree, which declares that the marriage was void from the start because of the ‘duress’ used.
This enables the woman to state that she was never legally married, an important point when divorce can so often be a stigma.
It is essential to state that a common misconception is that if the woman can prove she is a virgin, she can obtain a Nullity decree.
Quite aside from the fact that the courts would find it distasteful to subject a girl to providing such medical evidence, there is a legal bar – the marriage can only be void if there is ‘wilful non-consummation’ by the other party i.e. (usually) the man is refusing to consummate.
Since the reality is usually the opposite, this option is not available to many. English law can be extremely accommodating of Sharia law rights.
With the growth in numbers of practicing Muslims in the UK, and more women increasingly proud of their Islamic legal rights, there is an increasing need for UK lawyers who recognise the work that can be done to ensure equality and justice under English law.