Violence against women and 'honour crime' highlighted at CPS conference in Halifax


National speakers at Halifax conference highlighted how the criminal justice system tackles violence against women and so-called 'honour crime'.

What is the best way to get justice for someone who is being harmed by those who claim to love them most?

This difficult and complex question was top of the agenda at a national conference in Halifax, organised by CPS West Yorkshire which took place on Friday 20 November at the Queens Road Neighbourhood Centre.

On the distinguished panel of speakers were: Nazir Afzal, OBE, Acting Crown Prosecutor for CPS London and the CPS national lead on honour-based crime; Ann Cryer, MP for Keighley, who, in 1999, was the first MP to raise in parliament the issue of forced marriage; District Judge Marilyn Mornington, and Lucy Cohen, from Williscroft & Co, Solicitors.

Nazir Afzal said:

"Honour based violence has no faith basis. It breaches basic human rights and has absolutely no place in our society.

"I want to send out a clear and strong message to any woman who may be suffering that the CPS and our partner agencies are doing everything we can to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Nazir Afzal outlined the measures the CPS are taking to tackle honour crime.  Although there is no specific offence of forcing someone to marry, criminal offences such as kidnap, assault, threats to kill and false imprisonment may be committed in these situations. Perpetrators, who are often parents or family members can be prosecuted for these offences.

He said:

"Pretty much every single case of honour crime I have dealt with has been premeditated and involved multiple offenders and careful organisation. That is why we prosecute all cases of honour crime as if they were organised crime.

"Local support workers are also crucial links in the chain of getting help to these women. The first contact is always so important and I would urge those who work in the field to take immediate action when that all-important first contact is made."

Nazir Afzal went on to outline the measures the CPS are taking to tackle honour crime. Over the next year, the CPS will increase the number of prosecutors who specialise in honour crime, making their specialist expertise more widely available throughout the CPS, as well as providing specialist training for CPS prosecutors to help them understand the many different scenarios that may be involved.

The event was chaired by Jane Cryer, District Crown Prosecutor for the CPS in Calderdale, and attended by over 70 delegates from education, the voluntary sector, and public sector organisations that specialise in supporting women who have been the victims of violent crime.

Ann Cryer shared her experiences of meeting constituents who have been forced into marriage, and explained the new protection offered in the civil courts under the Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act of 2008 as well as recent changes to visa regulations for entry into the UK which have been introduced to tackle some of the most pressing issues surrounding forced marriage.

District Judge Marilyn Mornington, author, teacher, and writer on issues affecting Asian communities nationally and internationally - discussed the protection available for women through the courts, and Lucy Cohen spoke about the use of Forced Marriage Protection Orders.

Jane Cryer said:

"The conference has been a great success, and was considerably over-subscribed. We've built on the good work we achieved last year when we organised a similar event in Keighley. The response, and the commitment and enthusiasm of the delegates here today has been fantastic. It's very clear that there is a hunger for knowledge in our local communities about how best to tackle these cases which are complex on many different levels.  We will be building on the success of the Halifax conference with a further event in Bradford in 2010."

If you, or someone known to you, is being forced into marriage in the UK or abroad, you can contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 0207 008 0151, or your local police.