The Force, The Forced & The Enforcer: The Heart of Forced Marriage

An interview with

& Writer 
on Civil Liberty issues

Charlotte Proudman is a barrister with a passion for human rights. Her articles in The Independent, The Guardian and the New Statesman magazine as well as appearances on Radio 4 and in BBC Panorama had dealt with forced marriage, polygamy, Islamic marriage law as well as the impact of legal aid cuts on UK justice. As a vociferous critique of forced marriage and a leading expert on the issue, Charlotte was instrumental in the criminalisation of forced marriage and advised Number 10 Downing Street’s Policy Unit on drafting an offence. It is a real pleasure that she has spared the time to tell us about the legal issues close to her heart.

TheLawMap: You have written extensively about forced marriage as well as representing and speaking out for victims. What makes you so passionate about this issue?

I first became involved with forced marriage when I provided assistance for the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO). It opened my eyes to the suffering many women face in England and across the world. I was particularly concerned by the practice of transnational forced marriage, when women are taken from the UK to be forced into marriage overseas, often in South Asia. It was brought to my attention that little support was offered to transnational victims of forced marriage once stranded abroad.

I travelled to Pakistan and worked for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan researching transnational forced marriage, particularly focusing on whether Forced Marriage Protection Orders granted by the courts of England and Wales under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 have any force in Pakistan, in assisting the repatriation of victims to the UK. My research involved meeting victims, NGOs and consular staff at the British High Commission of Pakistan who are armed with the task of rescuing victims. Once I returned to the UK I continued with my commitment to end forced marriage and to ensure victims of forced marriage are given all the support and assistance they require.

TheLawMap: You wrote in an article published in The Independent newspaper arguing that cuts to the legal aid budget would lead to a privatised justice system akin to the US. What is the likely impact in terms of justice within the areas of law that you specialise in?

Following the introduction of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, civil legal aid cuts came into force on 1 April 2013. They are already having a significant impact on my areas of practice, particularly family law and housing law. Some types of cases are no longer eligible for legal aid, for instance, residence and contact disputes and divorce, except in very limited circumstances. Legal representatives turn many people who are in dire need of legal advice away because they are not entitled to legal aid and they cannot afford to pay for legal advice - therefore they have no access to justice. As a result I see more litigants in person than ever in court, which slows the court system down. Having seen the devastation caused to family law as a result of cuts to civil legal aid, I have spoken out against Chris Grayling’s proposals to introduce competitive tendering in criminal legal aid as such cuts will only further erode access to justice.

TheLawMap: I note that from August to October 2013, you would be on sabbatical, working for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel . Would you tell us a little more about the project and your involvement?

I will be working for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) researching issues of human rights violations in and around Israel. The ACRI specializes in precedent-setting legal work. The ACRI undertake cases on behalf of marginalized sections of society to challenge Government policy and legislation to advance human rights. Having worked in Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as other countries focusing on international human rights work, I am keen to expand on the international legal experience I have gained. My domestic practice in the UK often involved international law. I have been instructed to draft emergency and substantive applications to the European Court of Human Rights. I have a strong interest in strategic litigation and believe working for the ACRI will give me the opportunity to gather further knowledge and skills when dealing with constitutional challenges domestically and internationally.

TheLawMap: What inspired you to be a barrister?

I was inspired to become a barrister as I always wanted to be in a position where I could make a tangible difference to society by using my knowledge and skills to provide legal advice, support and change for vulnerable people in society. After providing pro bono advice at Toynbee Hall, a community based residential volunteer centre in East London, I knew that as a barrister I would be able to use the law as a tool to support the poorest section of society. Practising as a barrister is a rewarding vocation, I am able to see the changes that have been made to individuals’ lives on a daily basis.

TheLawMap: If you had one wish to change something within the legal profession, what would it be?

Along with the majority of barristers and members of the legal profession, I would reverse the legal aid cuts, which already been implemented and would prevent Chris Grayling’s legal aid proposals from becoming law. 

With special thanks to Charlotte Proudman for her valuable time.

Charlotte is a barrister at 1 Mitre Court Buildings. Passionate about human rights, she writes for the Independent, The Guardian and New Statesman on civil liberties issues and has undertaken pro bono work in Pakistan and and the Democratic Republic of Congo where she helped establish the first free legal advice centre. To create a change in law and policy, Charlotte hopes to engage in political debate in the future.

A glance at her twitter profile reflects a genuine passion for campaigning against legal aid cuts and thoughts on other justice related issues close to her heart.