NO ARRESTS have been made in Lancashire under forced marriage laws since new legislation was introduced last summer – prompting fears the powers are not being used.
Forcing somebody to get married against their will was made a criminal offence in June and the move was welcomed by campaigners, who said the law would empower victims to report the issue to the police.
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However, following a Freedom of Information request, the Lancashire Telegraph can revealed that in the eight months following the law’s introduction, not a single arrest was made in the county.
Forced marriage and domestic violence specialist Rachel Horman, a director at Watson Ramsbottom Solicitors, which has offices in Blackburn, Darwen, Great Harwood and Accrington, said she believed police were not putting their new powers to use.
Miss Horman, who is from Burnley, said: “It is definitely not a case that there have not been any forced marriages during this time. I have seen loads of cases in that period.
“However, it does not really surprise me to hear there have been no arrests.
“I think the police need to be a lot more aware and to use the legislation.
“I think there is probably an issue around training and we still hear of police officers who do not know it is a criminal offence.
“But there is also an issue with clients not wanting to criminalise their family members. These arguments are the same with domestic violence.
“If a victim comes forward, the police should not be asking them if they want to them to arrest somebody.
“The police are looking at the victims’ wishes too much rather than just acting.
“At the end of the day, the government has made forced marriage a crime and so the police should act like it is a crime.”
Under the legislation, it is illegal to use violence, threats or any other form of coercion to make somebody enter into a marriage if they believe, or ought reasonably to believe, that the behaviour may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without their free and full consent.
It is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
A spokesman for Lancashire Police said they took forced marriage very seriously. He said: “Forcing someone to marry against their will is a fundamental breach of human rights and a criminal offence. We would encourage anyone who is a victim of this crime or anyone that knows someone who is suffering to contact police or the relevant support services.”
Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire police and crime commissioner, said: “Forced marriage is something the Lancashire force takes very seriously and is keen to protect its residents against.
“I would urge anyone who is worried to get in touch with their local police, who will investigate.”
For help and advice about forced marriage call 101. In an emergency, call 999.