Akhter v Khan. Nikah (Islamic Marriage) in the Court of Appeal, reversing earlier finding of nullity (as opposed to absence of marriage).

[2020] EWCA Civ 122 deals upon appeal with the judgment of Williams J in [2018] 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).

Geert.