Blow to Reid over ban on sham marriages
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From The Times
May 24, 2007
John Reid failed yesterday in his attempt to overturn a ruling that Home Office regulations to curb sham marriages were in breach of the human right to marry.
Three Court of Appeal judges ruled that laws designed to clamp down on marriages of convenience involving illegal immigrants were unlawful.
The judges upheld a High Court judgment that the rules, introduced by David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary, breached the right to marry under human rights laws.
The High Court had also found that the law, which does not apply to marriages in the Church of England, discriminated against nonAnglican Christians and people from other faiths, including Muslims and Hindus.
Mr Reid, the Home Secretary, had suspended operation of the rules while he brought the appeal court challenge on the right to marry ruling.
The three judges said that the restrictions, which applied across the board with no inquiry into whether a proposed marriage was a sham, were a disproportionate interference with peoples right to marry.
Lord Justice Buxton said that the Home Secretary could interfere with a couples right to marry only in cases that involved, or very likely involved, sham marriages entered into with the object of improving the immigration status of one of the parties.
To be proportionate, a scheme to achieve that end must either properly investigate individual cases or at least show that it has come close to isolating cases that very likely fall into the target category, he said. It must also show that the marriages targeted do indeed make substantial inroads into the enforcement of immigration control.
The High Court judgment last year, in a test case brought by couples who included an illegal entrant from Algeria, led to claims for damages from many people who said that they had been denied the right to marry. Hundreds of other cases could be affected.
In the first case the Home Secretary refused permission to marry to Mahmoud Baiai, the Algerian illegal immigrant, and Izabella Trzcinska, a Pole.
Mr Baiai, 34, arrived illegally in February 2002, remaining without regularising his position. Ms Trzcinksa, 26, came in July 2004, two months after Poland joined the EU, giving its citizens the right to travel to Britain to seek work. They met when Ms Trzcinska was working in a pub in London and they began living together in October 2004. Mr Baiai then applied to the Home Office for permission to marry.
The two other cases related to asylum-seekers, including one individual who had been told to leave the country but wanted to marry someone already given protection as a refugee. Both the asylum-related couples were later given permission to marry, but Mr Baiai and Ms Trzcinska were not.
The High Court judgment upheld yesterday was a blow to government moves set in motion by Mr Blunkett to end sham marriages by illegal entrants.
The Home Office said that the new regime led to a drastic fall in the number of immigrant suspect marriage reports from marriage registrars and that it was determined to protect the immigration system and marriage laws from abuse.
Human rights lawyers said that the rules unfairly and unlawfully brought pain, suffering, humiliation and misery to many genuine couples.
Lord Justice Buxton, sitting with Lord Justice Waller and Lord Justice Lloyd, said that the right to marry and found a family under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights was recognised as an important and fundamental right, not to be lightly interfered with.
It was difficult to see how interference with that right on grounds of immigration control could ever be justified where the parties genuinely intended to live together as man and wife, they added.
Amit Sachdev, solicitor for the couples involved in the High Court case, said: Sadly this once again shows the Governments ongoing and abject failure to respect the human rights of immigrants or take on board the decisions of the courts when its policies are found to be illegal.
Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said: Since we introduced these checks in February 2005, the number of suspicious marriage reports received from registrars collapsed from 3,740 in 2004 to less than 300 by the end of May 2005.
Between January and August 2006 there were only 149 such reports. That is why we are disappointed that the Court of Appeal has dismissed our appeal.
A Nigerian-born parson married the same bride to two men within minutes in a North London church. She had time only for a cup of tea between ceremonies
It is claimed that there is at least one sham marriage a day in Scotland
Bogus bridegrooms pay 15,000 a time to marry British women in sham ceremonies in their home countries, and get a visa
Jetmir Xhelollari, 34, an Albanian gangster who had a sham wedding in Tirana to get back into Britain, raped a tourist two months after his return
Sources: Times database; Scotland on Sunday