Forced marriage, FGM and a UWO: The last week in family law

The Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced a package of measures to tackle the crime of forced marriage. As part of this, a public consultation will be launched to determine whether there should be a mandatory requirement for professionals to report a forced marriage case to the authorities. This will help identify which professionals the duty would apply to, the specific circumstances where a case would have to be reported, and potential sanctions for failure to comply with the duty. Further measures announced to crack down on forced marriage include plans to consult on including an explicit reference to forced marriage in the immigration rules to demonstrate that forced marriage is unacceptable in the UK, launch a communications campaign to raise awareness of the issue, work with the judiciary to examine whether anonymous evidence of forced marriage can be admissible as closed evidence in the appeals process, and consult on updated multi-agency statutory guidance on forced marriage to help ensure professionals understand forced marriage and their responsibilities. This work will progress over the coming months and follows previous action taken by the government to strengthen the law including the introduction of a specific criminal offence of forced marriage, lifelong anonymity for victims, and criminalising breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

The Home Office has launched a campaign to help raise
awareness of the harmful health consequences associated with female genital
mutilation (‘FGM’), and reinforce that the practice is illegal in the UK. The
campaign highlights the harmful health consequences of FGM, and signposts the
NSPCC’s 24 hour FGM helpline. Councillor Simon Blackburn, Chair of the Safer
and Stronger Communities Board at the Local Government Association, which runs
the National FGM Centre in partnership with Barnardo’s, commented: “Councils
are determined to help stamp out FGM from our local communities, and work
alongside police, the NHS and charities to make sure we do all we can to
protect women and girls from this horrific form of abuse. We are pleased the
Government has launched this campaign to raise awareness of FGM, which we urge
to make use of the invaluable work of the National FGM Centre – a specialist
resource that can work in communities across the country – to prevent FGM by
working with families and communities to safeguard against this ‘hidden crime’
which can leave victims physically and mentally scarred for life.”

A judgment of the High Court may mean that the wife of a
foreign banker will lose UK property worth millions of pounds, unless she can
explain the source of her wealth. The woman, ‘Mrs A’, was the subject of the
UK’s first unexplained wealth order (‘UWO’) earlier this year, following an
application by the National Crime Agency (‘NCA’). UWOs allow enforcement
agencies to challenge owners of assets worth more than £50,000 to explain how
they afforded those assets. The UWO was issued in respect of a property bought
in 2009 for £11.5m via a company in the British Virgin Islands. In 2015 Mrs A
applied for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, informing the Home Office in
her application that she was the owner of the Virgin Islands company. However,
the Virgin Islands Financial Investigation Agency informed the NCA that the
owner of the company was her husband, who was subsequently convicted of various
offences including misappropriation, abuse of office, large-scale fraud and
embezzlement in connection with a bank of which he was the chairman. In 2016 he
was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, and ordered to pay the bank a sum of
approximately $39 million. Mrs A applied to have the UWO discharged, but the
High Court refused her application. If she does not give a satisfactory
explanation as to how the property was obtained, then the property could
ultimately be seized.

And finally, the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew
McFarlane has warned that whilst the justice system may be under stress, it
will grind on, but it is the people propping it up who will collapse. Speaking
to the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group conference, he said: “If you can reduce
the causes of stress, that will have an impact on your wellbeing. As a judge,
now a senior judge, I take wellbeing of all of you very seriously. I’m not
paying lip service to this. We’re at a seismic moment. The system will not fall
over or collapse, it will just grind on. What will happen is the people will
fall over and collapse. Look after yourselves.”