Lord Justice Wall said ‘time had come to re-think the phrase “honour killing” ‘
A senior judge yesterday condemned the notion of honour killings as an affront to English law.
Lord Justice Wall declared that ‘they are acts of simply sordid criminal behaviour’ and ‘had nothing to do with any concept of honour known to English law’.
In an Appeal Court test case he ruled that the welfare of children should not be put at risk because of the ‘honour’ idea held in some Muslim families.
The judge added: ‘Arson, domestic violence and potential revenge likely to result in abduction or death are criminal acts which will be treated as such.
The case, involving three children of a Pakistani family who were removed by social workers and taken into care, is the first childcare case touching on honour issues to reach the level of the Appeal Court, which sets precedents to be followed in other courts.
The 41-year-old father of the children asked for the right to have contact with them, but was refused.
He also asked that the children, who have been put in the care of white non-Muslim foster parents, should be sent to live with a Muslim family.
The children were removed from the family following the death of another child and violent incidents connected to the role of a woman in their extended family.
Their 32-year-old mother is serving a five-year jail sentence for arson.
Violence in the family began when an uncle of the three children now in state care contracted a marriage to a woman from Pakistan, who was pregnant with her first child when she came to England in 2003. The child died at the age of 27 months after suffering multiple injuries.
The dead child was said in court to have shown injuries that may have been caused by sexual abuse.
The husband was convicted of murder. However, senior members of the family made it clear that they took his side.
A grandfather described the death of the child as an accident and the will of God, and made it clear that the husband should return to live at the family home on his release.
The Royal Courts of Justice in London, where Lord Justice Wall handed down his decision in the case
The mother of the dead child was said by Lord Justice Wall to have been kept ‘under virtual house arrest’ and to be unaware of the name of the city where she lived. In May 2005, with the help of police and social workers, she fled to a secret location with her second child. She is said to remain in fear of her life.
The family’s campaign against the fleeing mother extended to involve the three children now in care and living with a foster family.
The mother of the three children – a sister of the husband convicted of murder – reported in 2005 that her sister-in-law had returned to the family home in the company of a friend and dressed in a burka and had assaulted the children.
She alleged that her sister-in-law had cut her hands and neck with a knife, poured white spirit over the clothes of one of the children, and had set fire to clothing. The story was found to be untrue, and the three children were taken into care.
The foster parents of the three children – a girl of 11 and boys of nine and five – have since had to move several times because of fears for their safety.
Some Muslim women who refuse arranged marriages can face physical abuse for smearing their family’s ‘honour’
Lord Justice Wall said the woman who fled was regarded by the rest of the family as ‘dispensable’. He added: ‘Her flight and the disclosure of her treatment at their hands was seen by the rest of the family as being an insult to them. They saw it, and continue to see it, as a disgrace.’
He banned publication of anything that could identify the three children but said it was ‘important to an understanding of the case to note that the parents are both Muslims and that both the paternal and maternal families originate from Pakistan.’
The father was told he could not appeal against the decision to place the children with non-Muslim foster parents. If they were placed with a Muslim family, it was likely their mother’s family would find out where they were, the court heard.
Lord Justice Wall said: ‘The message from this case, which must be sent out loud and clear, is that this court applies a tolerant and human rights-based rule of law: one which regards parents as equals and the welfare of the child as paramount.
‘That is the law of England, and that is the law which applies in this case.’
HONOUR KILLINGS – THE FACTS:
The use of the term ‘honour’ is a translation from the Punjabi and Urdu word ‘izzat’. This word describes the concept of a family’s prestige and reputation within its community.
In many parts of the Indian sub-continent, a person’s entire life can be governed by a code of behaviour based on the need to maintain family honour at all times.
In most cases this involves observing a set of standards that, even to western eyes, is completely harmless and innocuous.
But in some families and some communities, the need to maintain honour is occasionally taken to extremes – and the need to recognise the law of the land ignored.
In such cases, the head of the family may decide that the only way to restore ‘izzat’ is to remove the person who damaged it – hence a so-called ‘honour killing’.
Today’s case involved a Pathan family – a community that straddles both Pakistan and Afghanistan – said by expert witnesses to follow ‘a prevalent tribal mentality’.
The court was told that honour murders were ‘not uncommon in Afghanistan and those areas where shame has been brought or people kill for precarious reasons.’
Victims of honour crime are usually women, but men who break family codes can also be punished for bringing their family into disrepute.
Fears that such crimes are frequent in Britain have come to the fore over the past decade.
A number of cases in which young women have died or disappeared have raised concerns that violent families have been able to put their own concepts of discipline and retribution above the law, and that such families are regularly protected by their friends, neighbours and communities.
There have also been concerns that police and prosecutors have been reluctant to investigate and act in such cases, possibly through unwillingness to provoke political or community trouble.
One notable murder was that of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod, who was raped, tortured and strangled at her South London home in 2006. Her body was later discovered in a suitcase in Birmingham.
Her father and uncle were later convicted of murdering her because she wished to marry a man who was not approved by the family – and had thus brought shame on them.
Miss Mahmod appealed to police for help before her death but was not taken seriously by officers. One police officer, PC Angela Cornes, dismissed her as a melodramatic drunk three weeks before her death.
Miss Cornes was given only minor sanctions by the Metropolitan Police for her mistake and was last year promoted to sergeant.
The Appeal Court judgment is likely to concentrate minds on the occasional dangers of the honour system and how it sometimes becomes incompatible with the basic tenets of English law.
Hat tip, Taffy