Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Department of Health and Children
While there is no specific provision in Irish statute law which makes forced marriage an offence, there are a number of measures which aim to ensure that marriage is entered into voluntarily and with full knowledge and consent.
The statutory provisions governing notice of intention to marry, solemnisation and registration of marriage are contained in the Civil Registration Act 2004. Section 2(2) of the Act provides that there is an impediment to a marriage if one, or both of the parties is already married; or if one or both of the parties is under 18 years of age, unless an exemption from the age requirement has been granted by the Circuit or High Court under Section 33 of the Family Law Act 1995. Section 47 of the Civil Registration Act provides that such an exemption may only be granted by a court if the applicants show that it is justified by serious reasons and is in their interests. A marriage would be void if the parties are within the prohibited degrees of relationship (i.e. if they are closely related by blood or marriage).
Section 46 of the Civil Registration Act requires parties to an intended marriage to attend at a registrar's office to give three months notice of intention to marry and to make a written declaration that there is no impediment to the marriage. This provision also gives the registrar authority to request evidence as to the names, addresses, marital status, age and nationality of the parties to an intended marriage. Notices of intention to marry may be published and are available for inspection at the registrar's office.
Section 48 of the Civil Registration Act provides for the issue of a Marriage Registration Form (MRF), without which no marriage may be legally solemnised. An MRF will only be issued if the registrar is satisfied that all of the statutory requirements for a valid marriage have been met. In addition, a marriage may not be solemnised unless one of the parties to the marriage gives the MRF to the person solemnising the marriage for examination by him or her, prior to the marriage.
Section 51 of the Act governs the manner in which a marriage shall be solemnised. A marriage may only be solemnised by a registered solemniser. A solemniser shall not solemnise a marriage unless both parties are present, two witnesses over 18 years of age are present, the place where the marriage is solemnised is open to the public and he or she is satisfied that the parties to the marriage understand the nature of the marriage ceremony and the declarations that must be made as part of the ceremony. These declarations are to the effect that (a) there is no impediment to the marriage and (b) they accept each other as husband and wife. This section also makes provision for interpretation where the solemniser, the parties to the marriage, or the witnesses do not have a sufficient knowledge of the language of the ceremony.
Section 53 of the Act provides for the establishment and maintenance of a register of solemnisers, which is open to inspection by members of the public. Religious bodies may apply to the Registrar General to have members registered in the register of solemnisers. In order to be registered, a person must be nominated by a religious body whose form of ceremony includes the required declarations referred to above. Section 55 provides for the cancellation of a registration in certain circumstances.
Section 58 of the Civil Registration Act provides for the making of objections to a marriage prior to solemnisation.
Offences in relation to the solemnisation of marriage are set out in Section 69(10) of the Civil Registration Act. An offence is committed if: a registered solemniser solemnises a marriage other than in accordance with the requirements of Section 51; a person who is not a registered solemniser solemnises a marriage; the solemniser fails to examine the MRF prior to the ceremony; a solemniser or a party to a marriage engage in a marriage ceremony where the notice required under Section 46 was not given; a party to a marriage makes a false declaration that there is no impediment to the marriage.
A person guilty of an offence under Section 69(10) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €2,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or both.
By its very nature, a forced marriage is going to involve some form of coercion, threat, intimidation, physical assault or restraint, abduction or unlawful detention. These matters fall to be dealt with under the criminal law.
There is a well established legal principle in common law that a full, free and informed consent is essential for a valid marriage. Full, free and informed consent would not be present in cases of insanity or unsoundness of mind, intoxication, mistake, misrepresentation, fear, duress, intimidation or undue influence.
In view of the above, I am satisfied that all reasonable measures are in place to prevent forced marriages and to provide a remedy where full, free and informed consent is absent.