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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 recognized by the UK Government, would nevertheless be recognized as valid in England and Wales. Roberts J’s judgment provides an important clarification of the circumstances in which the courts may take cognizance of the laws of a state that is not recognized 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.

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Marriage Celebrated In Somaliland, An Unrecognized State, Is Valid In England And WalesSomaliland is an autonomous region of the Federal Republic of Somalia (“FRS”). It declared independence from the FRS in 1991, but is not internationally recognized as a sovereign state. Although it is not internationally recognized, Somaliland has a working political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency. Consistent with the international consensus, the UK does not recognize 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 recognized 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 cognizance 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 recognize the state of Somaliland. Having considered the relevant authorities, however, Roberts J concluded that the present case fell within a recognized 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 recognized by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of the same name.

The judgment of Roberts J can be found here.

Admas Habteslasie appeared, with Deepak Nagpal of 1 King’s Bench Walk, as Advocate to the Court, appointed by the Attorney-General.

Marriage Celebrated In Somaliland, An Unrecognized State, Is Valid In England And WalesAdmas was called to the Bar in 2014. He practises at the overlap of public, international and property-related areas of law. His practice focuses in particular on the interaction of public law and disputes in relation to land/infrastructure projects, both in a domestic and international context. 

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