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Williams J finds that Islamic marriage falls within Matrimonial Causes Act

Wife entitled to decree of nullity

Mr Justice Williams has held that a marriage between a couple who underwent an Islamic ceremony, known as a Nikah, that was not legally registered, falls within the scope of section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

In Akhter v Khan and Another [2018] EWFC 54 Williams J concluded that the marriage is a marriage entered into in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of marriage. It is therefore a void marriage and the wife is entitled to a decree of nullity. The effect is that the wife will be able to bring proceedings for financial remedy.

Nasreen Akhter petitioned for divorce. Her husband argued that the couple were not married under English law but only under Sharia law.

After hearing evidence, Williams J concluded that:

 Hazel Wright, partner at Hunters Solicitors, commented:

"The law on cohabitation in this country is out of date and unsatisfactory. Now those who would have been outside the scope of the law to help them can seek compensation in the courts if their spouse has deliberately refused to have a civil ceremony after a religious ceremony.

"Ms Akhter and Mr Khan both knew that their Sharia marriage was not a legally registered marriage. It became vital for Ms Akhter that the English divorce court rule in her favour, that the marriage should be recognised as void, and not a non-marriage. Otherwise she would not have any rights to make any financial claims for herself.

"The ruling that this marriage was just like a marriage for the couple, their families and friends, and indeed it satisfied the UAE authorities, and so was a void marriage has given heart to many who otherwise suffer discrimination.

"An Independent Review into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales, published in February 2018 and commissioned by the then Home Secretary Theresa May, calls for a regime of public education about the legal status of Sharia law. Sadly, it is quite likely that, as with the defusing of the idea of 'common law marriage' (which is and can only ever be cohabitation), this won't be enough."

For the judgment, click here.