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Jail plan for forced marriage law faces backlash

THE Scottish Government is facing a backlash from human rights and anti-abuse campaigners after toughening-up controversial plans to criminalise forced marriage.

In a surprise move, ministers have demanded a maximum seven year jail sentence for those convicted of forcing someone to marry against their will.

The penalty is significantly higher than the two-year jail term they originally proposed and would bring Scotland fully into line with England.

Shona Robison, the minister responsible, will outline the government's case when she faces Holyrood's justice committee today.

However in a letter revealing the proposal to MSPs she said the level of deterrent needed to be "consistent" across the whole UK.

The Scottish Government is already facing opposition to its plan to adopt English laws to outlaw forced marriage.

Under existing laws - backed by campaigners - Scottish courts can issue protection orders safeguarding young women threatened with marriage against their wishes.

The system allows victims to secure protection without criminalising a family member, for example, though breaching an order is a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison.

Since the law came into force in 2011 seven Forced Marriage Protection Orders have been granted. One alleged breach is going through the courts.

The Scottish Government argues it is obliged to make forced marriage a criminal offence under the terms of the Istanbul Convention, an EU-wide crackdown backed by the UK last year.

In her letter to MSPs, Ms Robison said the move was required "to ensure that we will be in the position to meet our international obligations on forced marriage and that that forced marriage legislation (and protection to victims) is consistent across the UK".

She said the decision to seek the same, tougher penalty as down south reflected the need for consistency.

She added: "Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause but I sincerely believe that this change is required to ensure successful application of this policy both in Scotland and UK-wide."

The decision to adopt English legislation has been condemned by campaigners.

Kayleigh Thorpe, of the Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre said in a submission to today's meeting: "Forced marriage, by its very complex and secretive nature, often involving members of the family, is likely only to come to light if a victim or potential victim reveals what they are experiencing.

"At the moment there is a lack of reporting, and that is an issue. However we are not convinced that the creation of a criminal offence will increase the number of victims approaching authorities, in fact there is a risk of the opposite effect."

Three other groups, Scottish Women's Aid, Shakti Women's Aid and Hemat Gryffe Women's Aid also spoke out against the move.

The Scottish Government plan has won the backing of Police Scotland and - reluctantly - the Law Society of Scotland.

Katie Hay, of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "Given that we have devolved capacity to legislate on this matter and that in practice, we put a considerable amount of effort into doing so effectively, it is disappointing to have this matter decided and legislated on beyond our control."

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Local government

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