The British Home Office is in chaos as the Court of Appeal declared on Wednesday that immigration rules aimed at stopping sham marriages were unlawful.
The judges said the law breached the fundamental rights of immigrants subjected to the vetting. The court of appeal rejected an attempt by home secretary John Reid to revive the campaign against sham marriages and upheld a high court judgment last year that the rules breached the right to marry and the right not to be discriminated against.
The appeal court judges were particularly concerned that the rules, designed to block marriages of convenience by those trying to get around the immigration laws, did not apply to Church of England marriages. Lord Justice Buxton, sitting with Lords Justice Waller and Lloyd, said that the rules discriminated against non-Anglicans and were a “disproportionate interference” with people’s right to marry because they applied across the board, without any investigation into whether a marriage was genuine or not.
However, the decision has left the government in the lurch. The Home Office officials said the scheme has been “instrumental in tackling the issue of sham marriages”, adding it would study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal to the House of Lords. It claimed that at one time over 10,000 sham marriages were suspected.
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: “The Certificate of Approval scheme has been instrumental in tackling the issue of sham marriages. Since we introduced these checks, in February 2005, the number of suspicious marriage reports received from registrars has gone down from 3,740 in 2004 to less than 300 by the end of May 2005, and between January and August 2006, there were only 149 such reports.”
The Home Office had introduced rules making people born outside the EU and with permission to be in Britain for six months or less had to get a certificate of approval to marry from the home secretary at a cost of £135.
There was indeed a high-profile case in which it was alleged that one Jaswinder Gill made up to £1 million running a bogus wedding racket from her home in west London. She was, it was alleged, paid £11,000 for setting up sham marriages to help Indian men skip immigration procedures. Gill and her husband were jailed for 10 years for helping illegal entry into the country.
But, now the anti-immigration campaigners say that illegal immigrants have been given the green light to use bogus marriages to enter the UK. Legitimate migrants here temporarily will also be able to use sham marriages to beat immigration controls and stay indefinitely.