Although the law recognises arranged marriages as being legitimate, a marriage which is entered into under duress can be annulled by application.
A recent case illustrates that duress in such cases need not involve threats of physical violence.
The case concerned a sixteen-year-old girl who was born in the UK to Pakistani parents. She went on holiday to Pakistan with her mother, who refused to let her have her passport back. The date of her return flight passed and she realised that her parents intended that she should marry a man to whom she had been introduced in Pakistan.
The girl’s parents made various inducements to persuade her to marry the man, including telling her that they would kill themselves if she did not. They also refused her pleas to be allowed to return to the UK, saying she could only return after she had married.
After fifteen months she reluctantly agreed to the marriage, but it was never consummated. She later persuaded her parents to allow her to return to the UK. When she did so, she immediately applied to the UK court to obtain a decree of nullity.
Over the years, the courts have gradually taken a less strict view of the degree of pressure or threat of violence which is necessary to constitute duress when considering cases of this type.
In this case the presiding judge regarded that suffering ‘prolonged emotional pressure and blackmail’ was sufficient to make the young woman’s marriage a nullity.