A woman who was subjected to an arranged marriage with a man who has severe mental disabilities begged a High Court judge not to annul the union because it would consign her to permanent spinsterhood and ostracism by the Sikh community.
The Court of Protection is at the High Court Photo: Alamy
She said the marriage had destroyed her chances of a happy life but that it would be “culturally impossible” for her ever to form a relationship or have intercourse with any other man.
Mr Justice Holman, sitting at the Court of Protection in Birmingham, warned the woman that she would face life imprisonment if she did ever sleep with her husband because he lacked the capacity to consent to a sexual relationship.
But he declined to annul the marriage, noting the woman’s clear wish to remain a wife and the pleasure her husband derived from her frequent visits to see him.
Handing down his ruling, the judge expressed sympathy for the woman, who cannot be identified, and emphasised that she was not responsible for the circumstances in which she found herself.
“Her position is a tragic one, which she bears with fortitude and dignity,” he said.
The court heard that the husband’s mental disabilities dated back to babyhood and that he was unlikely to make any meaningful recovery.
His father, a leading figure in the British Sikh community who has since died, was the driving force behind the arranged marriage with a family from Punjab.
In 2009, the husband, now in his late 30s, was taken to the Indian region by his parents. The wife, some years his junior, was lame and the judge described them as two young people who “might otherwise have found it hard to marry”.
The woman told Mr Justice Holman she had consented to the arranged marriage as an “obedient daughter”.
She said she did not meet her husband before their wedding day and only realised that “he was not like a normal person” after the ceremony. She said they had slept together on their wedding night and on a few occasions since.
She moved to England to be closer to the man, who is cared for in a local authority home in the West Midlands, but has no recourse to public funds and works long hours as a fruit picker.
The court heard that she visits her husband several times a week and that they take pleasure in each other’s company.
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council asked the court, which makes decisions on behalf of those deemed to lack capacity, to make a ruling about the couple’s marriage.
It argued that it was in the man’s best interests to annul the marriage or declare it not recognised in England and Wales because he lacked capacity to consent to the marriage.
The judge said: “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.”
However, whilst acknowledging that it was an unusual union he said the “wishes and feelings” of the husband were plainly in favour of maintaining the marriage and that there was no obvious benefit for either of them in bringing it to an end.
“Whilst marital sex and cohabitation are, of course, normal incidents of a normal marriage between people of normal capacity, neither is essential to a marriage,” he said.
He warned the woman that she had no prospect of ever living with her husband and that if she tried to have sex with him she would be committing a criminal offence “of great gravity”.
“The fact that they are married to each other would be no defence,” he said.
“If she were to have any form of sexual intimacy with him, he would be the victim of a criminal act.”
It is believed to be the first time that a judge has allowed a marriage to continue, despite finding that by law it never existed because the man lacked the capacity to consent to, or contract, a marriage.
SOURCE: The Telegraph