Government set to finally bring in ban on forced marriages
Forced marriages are to be outlawed in Ireland under legislative proposals being brought before the Cabinet today.
The new law will criminalise a practice prevalent in certain cultures and is one of a raft of measures being proposed by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald as part of an overhaul of domestic-violence legislation.
It will make it an offence to force a person to marry where they do not consent to it or where consent is given under duress, either though emotional, physical, sexual or financial pressure.
The proposed offence will also cover situations where an adult or a child is removed or lured from Ireland to another territory for the purpose of forcing them to enter into a marriage.
The move comes two years after a similar law was introduced in the UK, which brought in a sentence of up to seven years for the offence.
Penalties there can be even higher where there are aggravating factors. A Cardiff man ended up being jailed for 16 years for forcing a Muslim woman to marry him. The case involved considerable harassment and rape.
Consultations are ongoing between the Department of Justice and the Attorney General on the penalties which will apply here.
Officials said there was limited information on the scale of the problem in Ireland as, by its very nature, forced marriage is a very hidden practice.
Subject to Cabinet approval, the new domestic violence bill is expected to be published in the next two months.
If passed, the bill would bring Ireland in line with the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe anti-domestic violence convention agreed in 2011, but which Ireland only signed up to last year.
As well as the forced marriage provisions, the bill is also set to include the introduction of civil protection orders.
In other jurisdictions where such orders are used, they can go further than traditional restraining orders and impose certain additional obligations on the alleged abuser.
The proposed legislation will include provisions which mean a victim will not have to have a greater or equal interest in a property to get a barring order against their partner or spouse.
It will also become possible for a victim to give evidence by video link to avoid the risk of intimidation by the perpetrator or an associate in a courtroom.
Courts will be able to appoint an expert to ascertain the views of a child where an order is sought on behalf of, or will partly relate to, the child.
There will also be restrictions on the categories of person allowed to be in court during criminal proceedings relating to domestic violence, so that the victim will not have to give evidence, potentially of a distressing nature, before a large number of strangers.
Courts handling domestic violence cases will also be able to refer a perpetrator to counselling services to address the roots of their behaviour.