When is a wedding not a wedding?

21st February 2020

Does a “wedding ceremony” constitute a legally binding marriage?

In the most recent case of Her Majesty’s Attorney General v Akhter and Khan it does not.   This case deals with an Islamic ceremony which took place in a London restaurant in 1998. Both parties knew that the ceremony had no legal effect and it was their intention to follow it with a civil marriage ceremony, but this in fact never happened.

To be legally married in England and Wales:

Parties need to wed in accordance with part II of the 1949 Marriage Act which section 44 states, must be in a registered building and have a registrar or authorised person present. Following the ceremony, the parties must also give notice to the Superintendent Registrar. In this most recent case, there was no authorised person present and no notice was given.

The original Judge said that the court was justified in taking a ‘holistic view of a process rather than a single ceremony’ and ruled that the wife was entitled to a decree of nullity. However, when the matter came before the Court of Appeal, they overruled this decision and said that the ceremony had no legal effect because the ceremony was not carried out correctly and further, both parties knew that the ceremony had no legal effect.

Barrister Charles Hale, who represented Akhter, said:

‘Thousands of women, usually Muslim women, believe that they lawfully marry in this country each year by undertaking a religious ceremony only. Many of them (and it is usually Muslim women) do not know in fact that, no matter how many people attend, no matter how public an expression of the marital contract, that they are not in fact lawfully married in accordance with the laws of England and Wales. This means that many have absolutely no rights at the end of what they believe to be their ‘marriage’. No rights to assets in the husband’s sole name, and no rights to maintenance, even if, as with Mrs Akhter, they were married for 18 years.”

The present case is concerned with an Islamic marriage ceremony, but the decision applies equally to religious ceremonies in the many faiths that make up our multi-cultural society. There is now significant pressure upon the legal system to review these “marriages and wedding ceremonies” and change the law to protect women in these situations.

Wedding doubts

If you are concerned over the legitimacy of your wedding, please contact our family law experts on either 01892 824 577 or family@burtons-solicitors.com.