MM v NA (Declaration of Marital Status: Unrecognised State)  EWHC 93 (Fam)
In a judgment handed down on 23 January 2020, Mrs Justice Roberts held that the parties’ marriage, celebrated in and according to the laws of Somaliland, a state that is not recognised by the UK Government, would nevertheless be recognised as valid in England and Wales. Roberts J’s judgment provides an important clarification of the circumstances in which the courts may take cognisance of the laws of a state that is not recognised by the UK Government.
The applicant and respondent, MM and NA, met and married in Somaliland, first attending a religious ceremony and then obtaining validation of their marriage and a formal marriage certificate from the Somaliland district courts. They now reside in the UK. The parties sought, pursuant to s.55 of the Family Law Act 1986, a declaration from the court that they were validly married to one another.
Somaliland is an autonomous region of the Federal Republic of Somalia (“FRS”). It declared independence from the FRS in 1991, but is not internationally recognised as a sovereign state. Although it is not internationally recognised, Somaliland has a working political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency. Consistent with the international consensus, the UK does not recognise Somaliland as a state, although the British Government has political contact with the government of Somaliland and has entered into memoranda of understanding with it. The question for the court in this case was whether a marriage validly celebrated according to the laws of Somaliland should, in accordance with normal principles of conflicts of laws, be recognised as valid in England and Wales notwithstanding Somaliland’s status.
In her judgment, Roberts J considered that the starting point was the ‘one voice’ doctrine and the related ‘non-recognition’ principle that the courts do not normally take cognisance of a foreign juridical person or its acts if doing so would involve the court in acting inconsistently with the foreign policy or diplomatic stance of the UK Government. In this case, the UK did not recognise the state of Somaliland. Having considered the relevant authorities, however, Roberts J concluded that the present case fell within a recognised exception to the non-recognition principle where what was in issue were “matters of private law between individuals or matters of routine administration such as the registration of births, marriages or deaths”. Roberts J further noted the lack of objection from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and the fact that the identified exception was consistent with the so-called Namibia exception recognised by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of the same name.
Admas Habteslasie appeared, with Deepak Nagpal of 1 King’s Bench Walk, as Advocate to the Court, appointed by the Attorney-General.
The judgment of Roberts J can be found here.