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Tag Archives: nullity

Null and void (or not)

A Local Authority v X and Another 2013

This was a set of care proceedings, within which the Local Authority applied under the Inherent Jurisdiction for a declaration that the marriage the child had entered into should not be recognised in English law.  It was an application supported by everyone, but ultimately refused. The reasons for the refusals are interesting and potentially applicable to other cases.

The child, X, underwent a marriage in Pakistan when she was aged 14.  A gun was produced to compel X to undergo the marriage against her will, and she was also abused by her “husband”

The LA position was that this was an unlawful marriage, given that X was domiciled in England at the time of the ceremony and was considerably under age.

The impact on the care proceedings was this :-

That X conceived a child as a result of that marriage. The father of that child would have parental responsibility IF the marriage was lawful, but if it was not lawful he would only have PR if X agreed to it (either by registering him as the father on the birth certificate, or entering into a parental responsibility agreement)

That would have consequential implications for any proceedings taking place in relation to X’s baby – whether the man who married X (and by all accounts was pretty vile towards X) would be a part of the care proceedings.

I hold by this judgment, as a mixed finding of fact and law for the purpose of the care and placement proceedings, (but not making any declaration to this effect) that the marriage between ‘X’ and the father of the baby is, on a balance of probability, void. Under English law, the father was not validly married to the mother on the date of the baby’s conception or birth. Section 1(3)(a) of the Family Law Reform Act 1987, read together with section 1(1) of the Legitimacy Act 1976, provides that a child shall nevertheless be treated as legitimate (with the consequence that the father does have parental responsibility) if at the time of the child’s conception either of the parties reasonably believed that the marriage was valid. However section 1(1) of the Legitimacy Act 1976 is subject to subsection (2) . Subsection (2) provides that subsection (1) only applies where the father of the child (viz. of the baby in this case) was domiciled in England and Wales at the time of the birth which, patently, the father of this baby was not. I therefore hold that the father does not have parental responsibility for the baby.

Now, you may well be thinking, that as a result of the judge finding as a fact that the marriage was probably void and that father does not have PR, that going on to end the marriage by making a declaration would be quite straightforward.

That declaration was sought by the LA and supported by the mother and Guardian.

The Judge was troubled that X could herself apply for nullity of the marriage, and had given this direction earlier

“‘X’ must give consideration as to whether she wishes to issue a petition for a decree that the said marriage is void on the grounds that (i) on the date of the marriage she was domiciled in England and Wales; and (ii) on that date she was under the age of sixteen, so that the marriage was void pursuant to section 2 of the Marriage Act 1949 and section 11(a)(ii) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (see Pugh v Pugh [1951] P 482). In the event that she voluntarily decides to issue a petition, it should be issued in the Birmingham County Court and an application made for it to be transferred to the High Court of Justice in the Birmingham District Registry



X had not applied for nullity.

  1. At paragraph 23 of her most excellent position statement prepared for the hearing today, Miss Vanessa Meachin, counsel on behalf of ‘X’ (through her guardian), wrote as follows:

“‘X’ is the victim of a forced marriage and rape. She is sixteen and struggling with the complexities of the two sets of legal proceedings that she is already involved in. It is respectfully submitted that it is unrealistic to consider that she is presently equipped to proceed with a petition for nullity.”

  1. Later, at paragraph 26, Miss Meachin wrote:

“The applicant local authority have set out their position comprehensively as to why such relief is sought and is entirely appropriate. In this respect ‘X’, her guardian and legal team entirely support the position taken by the applicant and commend the relief sought to the court. This is a matter that is capable of being resolved at this hearing.”

  1. In elaboration of what she wrote there, Miss Meachin has added today, with eloquence and cogency, that it is really too much to expect ‘X’, at any rate at her present age and stage in life, herself to take an active step that would be so defiant of her parents and family as herself to petition for a decree that the marriage that they forced her to enter into, as I have described, is void. In effect, ‘X’ and her legal advisors on her behalf seek to shelter behind the application that the local authority have issued, as I have described.



I would suggest that those are all very appropriate reasons why X would not seek a nullity in her own right, and why if it were lawful for the Court to declare the marriage void, it would be beneficial.

However, as Holman J observed, if there is a statutory remedy which can be exercised in relation to a marriage, the Court is prohibited from using the inherent jurisdiction to declare the marriage unlawful.   [You never fail to learn something in a Holman J judgment]

  1. There is a line of authority, both at first instance and in the Court of Appeal, whereby in certain circumstances courts have made declarations that a marriage contracted abroad is not recognised here for one reason or another. Sometimes that outcome is sought in situations where the party to the marriage lacked mental capacity to contract a marriage and continues to lack mental capacity to take any steps to seek its annulment. Lack of mental capacity, however, and also duress, are not grounds which render a marriage void but, rather, which render it voidable under section 12(c) or (d) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
  1. This case, however, is different. There may, indeed, have been reasons why the marriage is voidable under section 12 since it was achieved in consequence of duress; but in the present case there is the overarching fact that the marriage is altogether void because of the age of ‘X’. The advocates have sought to rely, in particular, upon the authority of Baron J in B v I (Forced Marriage) [2010] 1 FLR 1721. In that case the young woman in question was already aged sixteen at the time of the ceremony of marriage. It was, however, a forced marriage into which she had been forced by duress. There was no question of the marriage in that case being void, although it was, at its inception, voidable. However, section 13(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 has the effect that there is a statutory bar on petitioning for a decree of nullity where a marriage is voidable for duress if more than three years have elapsed from the date of the marriage. In that case, the issue as to the status of the marriage was only raised after more than three years had elapsed, and accordingly at a stage when it was no longer legally possible to obtain a decree of nullity. It was in those circumstances that Baron J was asked to make, and did make, a declaration that the marriage in question was never a marriage which was capable of recognition as a valid marriage in England and Wales.
  1. It is very important to note that at paragraph 14 of her judgment Baron J said:

“A number of authorities have been placed before me which persuade me that judges at first instance and, more importantly, the Court of Appeal regard the inherent jurisdiction as a flexible tool which must enable the court to assist parties where statute fails…” [my emphasis]

  1. At paragraph 16 of her judgment, Baron J quoted a passage from an earlier judgment of Coleridge J in which he had said:

“There is a real stigma attached to a woman in the petitioner’s situation if merely a divorce decree is pronounced and it is desirable from all points of view that where a genuine case of forced marriage exists, the courts should, where appropriate, grant a decree of nullity and, as far as possible, remove any stigma that would otherwise attach to the fact that a person in the petitioner’s situation has been married.”

Baron J continued by saying:

“In this case, nullity is not an option for it is statute barred.”

  1. The facts and legal situation in that case were, therefore, completely different from those in the present case. In the present case statute does not “fail”, for there is no time bar to obtaining a decree of nullity in the case of a marriage which is void. So in this case nullity is “an option” and is not statute barred.
  1. In her judgment in B v I Baron J correctly adverted to subsection 58 (5) of the Family Law Act 1986. That provides as follows:

“(5) No declaration may be made by any court, whether under this Part or otherwise – (a) that a marriage was at its inception void.”

Note that that subsection contains an absolute statutory prohibition on any court making a declaration that a marriage was at its inception void, “whether under this Part or otherwise”. It, therefore, absolutely forbids the making of a declaration, even in the so-called inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, to the effect that a marriage was at its inception void.

  1. As Baron J said in paragraph 12 of her judgment in B v I :

“That term was included in the Family Law Act 1986 to ensure that the Act was not used to circumvent the strict requirements of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.”

She continued:

“However, it is clear that the inherent jurisdiction must be used in a manner that is flexible enough to ensure that justice is provided for all. The plaintiff in this case does not seek a declaration that the marriage was void at its inception, rather, she seeks a declaration that there was never a marriage capable of recognition in England and Wales.”

  1. As Baron J herself later said at paragraph 17, the distinction between making such a declaration and a declaration that the marriage was at its inception void is “an extremely fine” one. But, on the facts of that case, Baron J was never faced with the situation where the court might have been able to make a decree of nullity on the ground that the marriage was void or a declaration that the marriage was “at its inception void”. On the facts and in the circumstances of the case with which she was faced, the marriage was never a void one but was, at most, one which was voidable in the discretion of the court on the grounds of duress which fall under section 12 rather than section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.


So that presents a problem. Counsel in the case were urging Holman J to follow Baron J’s line and make a declaration that there was never a marriage capable of recognition in England and Wales.   But the difference here was that there was a statutory option available.

  1. It seems to me that there is a fundamental distinction between the facts and circumstances in the case of B v I and those with which I am faced. In the present case, as I have said, this marriage is a void one. If ‘X’ chose to present a petition for nullity, which she has ample age and mental capacity to do, being now aged almost seventeen and of normal maturity and intelligence, then (if satisfied as to the facts) the court could and would pronounce a decree of nullity on the ground that the marriage is void.
  1. There is no statutory gap in this case. If, on the facts of this case, I were to grant a declaration to the effect that the marriage is not recognised in England and Wales, or that there never was a marriage which is capable of recognition in this jurisdiction, I would not be filling a gap. I would, frankly, be bypassing and flouting the statutory prohibition in section 58(5) of the 1986 Act by a mere device. I cannot do that and I am not prepared to do that.
  1. I do understand and have sympathy with the point and position that it might be particularly defiant by ‘X’ of her family for her herself to initiate proceedings for a decree of nullity, although she now has little contact with most members of her family. The reality is that sooner or later she needs fully to resolve her legal status and to face up to the obviously necessary step of obtaining a decree of nullity, not least for the reasons given by Coleridge J in the passage quoted at paragraph 27 above. That, however, is a matter for her own decision, her own timing, and her own choice. For the reasons that I have now given, I simply refused to make the declaration sought.



One hopes that this issue never crops up again, but sadly such under age marriage continue to occur, and whilst it might be helpful and useful that the child herself does not have to drive the dissolution of the marriage, the inherent jurisdiction does not help where the statutory remedy exists.

{I have to say that my initial instinct was to look at the Forced Marriage (civil protection) Act 2007 for a remedy here, but that doesn’t seem to me to give the Court power to dissolve a forced marriage over and above the existing provisions. }

“Capacity to marry”

Sandwell MBC and RG, GG and SK and SKG 2013 and whether an arranged marriage where the individual had no capacity should endure or be dismantled

This was a Court of Protection case, heard before Mr Justice Holman. It involved two adult males, both of whom had significant capacity issues.

After considerable investigation and careful consideration by the local authority, the Official Solicitor and experts variously instructed by them, it is now common ground: first, that GG and RG each lack the capacity to make a range of decisions as to where they reside, their care packages, their contact with others, and certain other matters; and, second, that it is in their respective best interest that there be a range of declarations and other orders in terms which have been carefully drafted, and with one exception, are agreed.


The ‘one exception’ is of course, the majority of the litigation. In 2009, RG’s family arranged a marriage for him, to a woman named SK, and that marriage took place in India.

SK then came to the UK. It was her evidence, accepted by the Court, that it was only subsequent to the wedding ceremony that  she learned that RG had profound difficulties. Nonetheless, the marriage was consummated.

Mrs SK bears no personal responsibility at all for the events which happened. There is no question whatsoever of her having personally exploited the mental disability of RG. She was an obedient daughter, in a Sikh family, who compliantly participated in the arrangements that her family made for her marriage. Having married him, she now feels committed to him, and, indeed, says that she does now love him. She says that it would be impossible in her culture and religion for her ever to marry anyone else, and that if she were divorced, or her marriage was annulled, she would be ostracised in her community.

  1. The issues that now remain in relation to RG relate to the status and continuation of that marriage. It is accepted by Mrs SK that she cannot provide to RG the support and daily care and assistance that he needs, and always will need, and she no longer resists that he remains living in the accommodation provided and staffed by the local authority. She implores me, however, not to facilitate or permit steps to be taken to annul their marriage.
  1. At the outset of the hearing Mrs SK was also still asking to be permitted to have some sexual relationship with her husband, the more so as it would be culturally impossible, now, for her to do so with any other man. The evidence of Dr Xenitidis was, however, crystal clear that RG has no understanding at all what sex is, and, accordingly, that he lacks any capacity to choose whether to agree to sexual touching. As Xenitidis put it: “He does not even understand what sex is. Whether it is voluntary, or not, is a kind of luxury for him.”

That would place SK in difficulties with the criminal law, and specifically section 30 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, in that making love with her husband could potentially land her in prison, the maximum sentence being life.

Section 27(1)(b) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 expressly provides that nothing in that Act permits a decision to be made on behalf of a person consenting to have sexual relations. Accordingly, if, as is clear, RG himself lacks any capacity to consent to sexual relations, the court cannot provide any consent on his behalf, even if (I stress if) that might enable him to gain some physical pleasure from some sexual activity.

 For these reasons the order will include a declaration that RG lacks capacity to consent to sexual relations. It will be the duty of the local authority, as his carers, to take all reasonable steps to prevent him from being the victim of a criminal act, and the regular contact between Mrs SK and RG will have to be supervised to the extent necessary to ensure that there is no sexual touching between them. Mrs SK now accepts a condition of contact that she does not communicate to RG that she would like to have sexual relations with him, or go to the bedroom with him.

Turning to the marriage, the Court unsurprisingly found in the light of the expert evidence on RG’s capacity that he had no understanding whatsoever of what a marriage was, that he had not had capacity to enter into the marriage contract.

The argument then, and it becomes an interesting one, is what should happen with the marriage. Underlining mine

  1. There remains, therefore, the question of whether I should declare that it is in the best interests of RG that the Official Solicitor should present a petition for a decree of nullity on his behalf, there being no doubt that RG personally lacks any capacity to make a decision whether to do so.
  1. The Court of Protection cannot itself annul a marriage. So in relation to a petition for nullity all I can do in the present proceedings is authorise, and, if necessary and appropriate, direct that the Official Solicitor presents and pursues one. For that purpose, the actual decision where RG was domiciled on the date of the marriage, would fall to be made, not by me in these proceedings, but by the matrimonial court, once seised with a petition for nullity.

It might well have been an interesting position for the Official Solicitor (who were, on RG’s behalf opposed to petitioning for nullity) if the Court had declared that it was in RG’s best interests for them to do so. Clearly they would have to have either done so, or appealed the declaration.  

The LA were very keen for the marriage to be ended, chiefly as a matter of public policy

I have been told that within the area of this particular local authority there are a number of incapacitated adults who have been the subject of arranged or forced marriages, and that it is important to send a strong signal to the Muslim and Sikh communities within their area (and, indeed, elsewhere) that arranged marriages, where one party is mentally incapacitated, simply will not be tolerated, and that the marriages will be annulled



  1. In the forefront of Miss Pratley’s submissions is policy. The position of the local authority is encapsulated in paragraphs 7 and 8 of her cogent, written, outline submissions dated 28 June 2013, where she wrote:

“7: It is plainly a relevant circumstance that RG lacked the capacity to enter into the marriage, and continues to lack that capacity. Indeed, his lack of capacity is a fact of such importance that it would be difficult to argue it is not the starting point (or, if not the starting point, a circumstance of very significant weight) in determining best interests. It is submitted on behalf of the local authority that it is an overarching and compelling consideration in the best interests analysis. Whilst it is not asserted that it could never be in a person’s best interests for the court to decide not to take steps to end their marriage in these circumstances, only in exceptional cases will such a conclusion be sustainable.

8: This is because the court would otherwise make a decision, the effect of which would be that RG remain married in circumstances where he lacked capacity to marry, on the basis of circumstances, such as RG’s wishes and feelings and the impact on RG if his marriage was brought to an end, with little or no weight given to the fact of his incapacity on the basis that he is already married. It is impossible to reconcile this with the fact that a court could never take such considerations into account in allowing RG to marry in the first place. This would undermine the legal foundation of the institution of marriage in England and Wales, where consent is a fundamental element of a legally unassailable and enduring marriage contract.”



SK pleaded vehemently that the marriage should not be annulled, that as a consequence of her religion and culture it would cause her shame and might cause her to be ostracised.

The Official Solicitor took the view that RG would not want to cause SK any harm or distress, and when the issue that SK might have to permanently leave the UK (as she would if the marriage were annulled) he reacted very badly against this, and thus it was in his best interests not to annul the marriage, notwithstanding that he had not had the capacity to enter into it.

  1. The present wishes and feelings of RG himself, so far as they can be ascertained, are quite clear. Although he has such little understanding of marriage that he lacked capacity to marry, he, nevertheless, frequently uses the words “wife”, and “marriage”, or “marry”, in relation to Mrs SK. She visits him regularly, several times a week. Although the visits are quite short, he reacts to them with pleasure and appears to gain pleasure from the visits and from the relationship.
  1. RG reacts badly to references to divorce. Mr Dipak Mohan, his key social worker, said that if RG is told that his marriage is at an end, he is likely to take it extremely badly. When his brother told him that Mrs SK might be deported, he reacted extremely badly and aggressively

The Judge determined that the Official Solicitor was correct

  1.  Unquestionably, RG cannot gain the support, pleasures and benefits of a marriage, as normally understood. He cannot gain many other of the pleasures of life that are available to persons of normal capacity. But still he gains some pleasure and some benefits from this marriage and relationship.


  1. Like the Official Solicitor, I am completely unpersuaded that his best interests require or justify that it is now annulled. For these reasons I will exclude from the otherwise agreed order in relation to RG those parts which provide for the Official Solicitor now to present a petition for the marriage to be annulled.

There was obviously a tension in this case between public policy (the compelling argument that marriages arranged by families overseas with the knowledge that the bride or groom lacked any capacity to enter into it should not result in the families benefiting from the marriage enduring)  and the individuals in the case, with there being good evidence that RG would have been caused distress by the annulment – since SK would have had to leave the country and little evidence of positive benefit to him. The Judge found in favour of the individual rather than public policy.

Whilst the Judge was at pains to point out at the outset that the case turned on its facts and that he was not seeking to establish any general principles, it is not difficult to see that those acting in such cases in the future would point to the issues in this case as being broadly supportive of the marriage not being annulled on the basis of public policy alone, and that there would have to be benefits to the individual concerned.