High Court judgment does not mean that Islamic marriages are recognised

A High Court judgment in relation to an Islamic marriage has caused confusion in some quarters, with it being reported that the judgment means that such marriages will be recognised by English law.

In the case Akhter v Khan the parties undertook an Islamic marriage ceremony in Southall, London, in 1998. However, they did not go through a civil marriage ceremony that was valid under English law.

The marriage lasted for 18 years, during which time the parties considered themselves to be married to each other and held themselves out to the world at large as husband and wife.

In November 2016 the wife issued divorce proceedings. The husband defended the divorce, on the basis that the parties had not entered a marriage valid according to English law. In her reply, the wife claimed that the presumption of marriage arising out of cohabitation and reputation applied so as to validate the marriage. In the alternative, she claimed that the marriage was a void marriage, as it had not complied with the necessary legal requirements.

The question as to the legal status of the marriage fell to be decided by Mr Justice Williams in the High Court. The question was of vital importance, as if there was no marriage at all then the wife could not make any financial claims against the husband. On the other hand, if there was a valid marriage, or if the marriage was void, then she could pursue such claims, either within the divorce proceedings if the marriage was valid, or within nullity proceedings if the marriage was void (a void marriage is ended by annulment).

Mr Justice Williams held that the marriage had not been validated by the presumption of marriage, as the presumption of marriage did not operate on the facts of the case so as to presume a valid marriage under English law. However, he did hold that it was a void marriage, and accordingly the wife was entitled to a decree of nullity.

As Mr Justice Williams explained, the case was not about whether an Islamic marriage ceremony should be treated as creating a valid marriage in English law. A couple who go through an Islamic marriage ceremony will still need to go through a civil ceremony if they want the marriage to be recognised by English law.

You can read the whole of Mr Justice Williams’ judgment here.

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Image of Islamic bride signing marriage papers by S.M. Samee [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons.