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26 October 2017

Unregistered marriages

Clandestine marriage ceremonies are being conducted throughout the country. There are no formal requirements for having witnesses, being married at an official venue or by an official. There is no associated stigma because it’s common practice and couples prefer the ‘private’ alternative and Clergymen depend on the marriage fees. The State doesn’t want to interfere but clandestine marriages are becoming the rule rather than the exception affording no protection to the vulnerable.

ALL this happened 300 hundred years ago in England when marriage was regulated by canon law of the Church of England. After growing concerns, Parliament enacted the “Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage”, the Marriage Act 1753. The Act introduced formalities and recognised marriages conducted by the Church of England, Quakers or Jews to confer protection on the vulnerable. The cornerstone in English family law recognised the need to afford protection to the individual but centuries later England is again rife with religious marriage ceremonies and the Act doesn’t provide these vulnerable individuals the same protection. 

Through case law research and hosting a lecture at the House of Lords with representatives for both the Home Office and Home Affairs Select Committee Sharia Review panels in attendance, it is this author’s view the research into unregistered marriages does not, as of yet, grasp the complexity of the problem in legal practice. Namely, that unregistered marriages are recognised. Islamic marriage ceremonies conducted in England have found recognition in the court system in three ways. The author explores the existing legal recognition of Islamic marriages and considers how we can utilise the existing law to help combat the socio-political resistance to reforming family law to help clarify, rather than change, the law on recognising Islamic marriage.

Shabana Saleem Associate Barrister in the Family Department at Charles Russell Speechlys presented a paper on this matter to speak at the Family Law Symposium exploring religious and civil law issues in family matters organised by the Council of Europe Family Policy and hosted by De Montfort University in April 2017. Shabana is now co-authoring a paper on this point with Professor Rebecca Probert, a British legal historian and Chair in law at Warwick University.

This article was written by Shabana Saleem. For more information please get in touch with Shabana on +44(0)20 7427 6502 or via