Posts Tagged family law
Akhter v Khan. Nikah (Islamic Marriage) in the Court of Appeal, reversing earlier finding of nullity (as opposed to absence of marriage).
 EWCA Civ 122 deals upon appeal with the judgment of Williams J in  EWFC 54 Akhter v Khan which I reviewed at the time here – readers may want to read that post before considering current one. Of note is that applicable law is firmly English law, the judgment is not really one in the conflict of laws.
Williams J had declared the marriage at issue void under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the wife was granted a decree of nullity. This has extremely relevant consequences in terms of ‘matrimonial’ property, and maintenance obligations, including those vis-a-vis the children: non-marriage creates no separate legal rights while a decree of nullity entitles a party to apply for financial remedy orders under the 1973 Act.
Williams J’s judgment was reversed: at 106, following review of ECHR authority: ‘i) Whilst the Petitioner’s Article 8 right to respect to family life is undoubtedly engaged, the failure of the state to recognise the Nikah as a legal marriage is not in breach of those rights; ii) The right or otherwise to the grant of a decree of nullity does not in itself engage Article 8; the fact that at the time of the Nikah ceremony both parties knew that in order to contract a legal marriage they had to go through a civil ceremony, and intended to do so, does not undermine either of those conclusions or permit reliance on Article 8 as a means to allow a flexible interpretation of s. 11 of the 1973 Act.’
With respect to the impact of the children’s interests on this finding, at 111: ‘In our view the decision before the court cannot properly be described as an action concerning children and we cannot see how it can be said that the best interests of a child can turn what was neither a void nor valid marriage, into a void or valid marriage. In our judgment, the action in question relates solely to the status of the adult applicant.’
The Court of Appeal found therefore that the interests of children can play no part in a determination as to whether a ceremony is a non-qualifying ceremony or is a void marriage, and that neither ECHR or UNCHR can make a difference in this respect (at 119); whilst there is inevitably a tangential impact upon a child dependent upon the status of his or her parents’ relationship, an application brought before the court made in order to establish the status of that relationship cannot properly be regarded as an “action concerning children” (at 118).
As Williams J notes at 5,  EWFC 54 Akhter v Khan is not about
‘whether an Islamic marriage ceremony (a Nikah) should be treated as creating a valid marriage in English law. In fact, the main issue as it has emerged is almost diametrically the opposite of that question; namely whether a Nikah marriage ceremony creates an invalid or void marriage in English law. To the average non-lawyer in 2018, it may appear an easy question to answer. Surely a marriage which is not a valid marriage is a void marriage and thus can be annulled? Regrettably it is not that simple.‘
The Guardian explain here why it is not that simple, and Ralf Michaels has analysis here. In essence (the remainder of this para is largely based on Ralf’s text), many muslims in the UK only perform Nikah and not a civil ceremony. The latter is firmly required under English law (indeed under the law of many European countries; where unlike in the English example, a religious ceremony must not even double up as a civil one, and the latter must always precede the religious one). Nikah hitherto had been considered a non-marriage which the law could ignore, because it did not even purport to comply with the requirements of English law. The High Court was unwilling to presume the lived marriage as valid.
Williams J however declared the marriage at issue void under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The wife was granted a decree of nullity. This has extremely relevant consequences in terms of ‘matrimonial’ property, and maintenance obligations, including those vis-a-vis the children. The Court’s analysis of human rights law is extensive, including of course with the ECHR gateway (via the Human Rights Act 1998) and the UNRC: the UN Convention on the Right of the Child. In this respect Williams J’s analysis is not unlike that of classic ordre public considerations: which are always case-specific and take into account the hardship caused to the individuals involved, were a foreign legal concept not recognised in the forum.
The Court has set an important precedent – but like all precedent of course there is case-specificity (the length of the lived marriage, the children,…
Of note is that applicable law in the case was firmly English law. Recognition of the marriage as such in the UAE did play a role in the judge’s assessment.
All in all an important case viz the discussion on multiculturality and family law in Europe.