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Judge expresses concern at how professionals tackled case where child underwent forced marriage abroad

A Family Court judge has criticised “multiple problems” in the way professionals dealt with the case of a child who was not protected from undergoing a forced marriage abroad.

In K and L (children : care proceedings) [2021] EWFC B39 HHJ Oliver Jones concluded the threshold criteria pursuant to s.31 of the Children Act 1989 had been established in several allegations in care proceedings brought by the London Borough of Enfield, though rejected some of the allegations as lacking evidence.

All persons involved in the case were anonymised, as was the parents’ country of origin and language.

The case concerned K, a girl now aged 15, who has a brother, nine-year-old L.

Suspicions were raised K had been taken back to the country of origin where she underwent an engagement ceremony to P and later had been forced into marriage to Q, an adult male relation in his twenties.

Enfield made 12 allegations including that K participated in a customary marriage ceremony in that country in which she was forced to marry Q, that K’s mother later told her Q was in the UK and that arrangements would be made for to live with him and be his wife, and without the making of protective orders L could also be forced to marry against his wishes and was at risk of suffering emotional harm.

Expressing concern about how some interviews with K were conducted and how evidence was obtained, acted on and handled, the judge said: “I have during this judgment identified several significant failures in the safeguarding processes in relation to K.”

He said he would release the judgment in its anonymised form to K’s school and the police, and identify to those organisations their staff members, so they can consider their processes and what lessons can be learnt. 

“I also expect the local authority to look most carefully at its actions and inactions in this case and what it can do to avoid any similar repetition in the future,” he said.

HHJ Jones said he was especially concerned because if there had been effective intervention after K’s engagement to P in 2019, “K could and should have been protected from the marriage and abuse she later suffered with Q”.

He added: “I am not looking to pillory the professionals involved. However, in this case multiple problems have arisen which have impacted on K who has not been kept safe.”

Mark Smulian

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