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In the latter half of the twentieth century a variety of laws which

were associated with traditional views of morality and family life

were repealed or amended, such as those regulating abortion,

homosexual acts and divorce. Bigamy, however, remains a criminal

offence, and its practice or the avoidance of the offence have various

implications under other branches of law.

This becomes an issue due to the large increase in the Muslim

population in the United Kingdom which has taken place over a

similar period of time, and the fact that under Islamic law it is

permissible for a man to have up to four wives. While this has been

happening, a change in attitudes to personal morality has apparently

resulted in a move away from strict monogamy within the

population as a whole, so that the assumption of monogamous

marriage becomes open to question.

At the beginning of a new millennium however, it is possible

that the law may now be challenged. Medi Siadatan, a Walsall

restaurateur, wants the law to guarantee multiple wives the same

rights as any other spouse, and the Muslim Parliament of Great

Britain is considering a challenge to the law. With the

incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights

into domestic law for the first time, it is clear that both individual

polygamists and at least one prominent Muslim organisation intend

to seek legal recognition for the relationships in which they are

living, or which they believe their communities should be able to


Against this background, chapter two presents a review of the

available literature on plural marriage and the law, focussing on

the commentary on English law, but also including information

from other fields that have not usually been considered by the


Chapter 3 gives details of the history of the English Criminal

law of bigamy and some related offences. This begins with the use

of similar offences within the Roman Empire, through controversies

during the reformation which challenge the assumption that

monogamy is of Christian origin, and on to the modern application

of the law.

The law of England and Wales is of international interest in

this regard, because of its similarity to the law of Northern Ireland,

and its persuasive force in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland

and across the Commonwealth. The English law on bigamy has

also been cited in leading cases in the United States and before the

European Court of Human Rights, further establishing the relevance

of considering the current state of the law at a time when

prosecutions of polygamists have revived in Utah.

Chapter 4 traces the development of the civil law relating

to plural marriage, and specifically the move towards greater


Chapter 5 compares the reasoning behind the different areas

of the law and identifies the assumptions that lie behind them,

which are then tested in chapter 6 against research and argument

from a number of disciplines and against demographic information.

This reveals the assumptions and reasoning to be largely open

to question, and in need of debate.

Chapter 7 identifies relevant sections of the European

Convention on Human Rights that will need to be applied by the

English Courts, and the likely issues to be raised in the context of

polygamy are highlighted in chapter 8. The study concludes that

the law has not developed in a logically coherent way, but that the

law has contributed towards stifling interest in debating the subject.

The Human Rights Act therefore presents both a stimulus for

comprehensive debate and a considerable challenge to the existing

law. Some opportunities that the Act presents for reform are

identified, should anyone wish to take them forward to the courts.

Finally, it is worth noting that some commentators treat

bigamy as the practice of having two wives, and polygamy as the

practice of having more than two wives, but this reflects neither

the common usage nor the dictionary definition.

The term ‘polygamy’ is used in this book to refer to the practice

of one man having more than one wife at the same time, otherwise

known as ‘polygyny’. This is how the term is used by most writers

as this is by far the most prevalent form of plural marriage, but

technically the term can also cover ‘polyandry’, the practice whereby

a woman has more than one husband. In this text, polyandry will

be referred to separately from polygamy.

In this book a “potentially-polygamous” marriage is a marriage

involving two parties only, but which was celebrated under a

law which allows polygamy.

The term ‘bigamy’ will be used in reference to the criminal