Raising the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales

An earlier post reported that on 16 June Sajid Javid presented to the Commons the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill: “a Bill to make provision about the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership; and for connected purposes”. The Bill is to be read a second time on Friday 19 November, the background to which is reviewed in the House of Common Library Commons Library analysis of Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill 2021-22, published on 17 November 2021. In addition to summarizing the present Bill’s provisions and the associated documents, the analysis includes a summary of the current provisions, a section on forced marriages, and a review of the previous four Bills on the minimum age of marriage and civil partnerships.

Background information

The House of Commons Library’s analysis indicates that In 2018 (the most recent year for which data is available), one hundred and forty seven 16-17-year-olds got married to a member of the opposite sex. This figure represents 0.06% of all marriages that took place in England and Wales in 2018. It was the lowest number of marriages recorded in this age group to date. Marriages of same-sex couples are not reported with a detailed age breakdown, and neither are civil partnerships.

Government guidance on recognising a forced marriage states:

“A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities or reduced capacity, cannot) consent to the marriage as they are pressurised, or abuse is used, to force them to do so. It is recognised in the UK as a a form of domestic or child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights”.

Statistics on forced marriage are published by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). The FMU is a joint Home Office and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office unit established in 2005 to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework.

In 2020, the FMU gave advice or support in 759 cases related to a possible forced marriage and/or possible female genital mutilation (FGM). Of these cases, 750 solely related to forced marriage, three to both forced marriage and FGM, and six solely to FGM.

Summary of the Bill

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill is a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Pauline Latham (Mid-Derbyshire, Conservative). The Explanatory Notes have been prepared by the Ministry of Justice and Home Office on behalf of Pauline Latham. The Second Reading of the Bill is due to take place on 19 November 2021.

In the Home Office Policy Paper Tackling violence against women and girls strategy (12 October 2021), the Government states that it  will support the raising the age of marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales from 16 to 18 years, when an appropriate legislative vehicle becomes available. The paper also sets out its commitment to “the goal of ending child marriage in this country”, acknowledging “the need to signal to other countries that child marriage is something which needs to be tackled”.

The Bill would raise to 18 the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales. The Explanatory Notes state how this would affect marriages and civil partnerships which take place outside of England and Wales:

The anticipated effect of this change on the common law will also mean that any marriages which take place overseas, or in Scotland or Northern Ireland, involving under 18s where one of the parties is domiciled in England and Wales, will not be legally recognised in England and Wales. This change to recognition will also apply to civil partnerships.

The Bill would also expand the existing criminal law on forced marriage to make it illegal for a person to arrange the marriage of a person under the age of 18 in England and Wales. The existing law only applies if a form of coercion is used or if the victim lacks capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Update

The Bill was given unanimous Second Reading in the Commons on Friday 19 November after 90 minutes of debate, a summary of which is reported here.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Raising the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales" in Law & Religion UK, 18 November 2021, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2021/11/18/raising-the-minimum-age-for-marriage-in-england-and-wales/

 

1 thought on “Raising the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales

  1. I got married in 1972. My wife was 17 years, 10 months, and 3 days old on our wedding day. My first marriage lasted 23 years and produced 4 of my 5 children.

    I was thinking about this, and treatment in law of late adolescence generally, in the context of a Twitter conversation about so-called “minor-attracted people”, musing that perhaps the age of *consent* should be raised to the age of majority (18 in England) *gradually* (as was the retirement age for women).

    This is not of that common-sense, measured-approach spirit. As Scotland is considering reducing the voting age to 16, and whilst it remains possible to join the army and find oneself under fire at age 16, it would be absurd if England refused to recognise legal marriages contracted in the rest of the United Kingdom. I imagine it will have those who offer catering services in Gretna Green, and the present blacksmith working there, up in arms, cursing the bloody Sassenachs for damaging their nuptial tourist trade and voting for independence in retaliation.

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