British plans to tighten immigration laws were dealt a potential blow on Wednesday when the country’s highest court of law ruled against a blanket ban on marriage visas for anyone who is under 21 years of age.
The rule was aimed at curbing forced marriages – a growing problem in Britain – but the Supreme Court upheld a challenge by women’s and migrants’ groups on the grounds it violated the rights of couples to family life.
This right is protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. “…It is clear that the rule will interfere with many more entirely voluntary marriages than it will prevent, deter or delay forced marriages,” said Lady Brenda Hale, one of the judges.
The rule, which was introduced by the Labour government and implemented by the current ruling coalition, affected some 5,000 young couples every year, 96% of them in genuine marriages, said the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), one of the challengers.
Tuesday’s court ruling is a setback to home minister Theresa May, who this month publicly attacked the British human rights Act, which incorporates European provisions. She said the Act was preventing the government from expelling illegal immigrants, and “needs to go.”
However, JCWI chief Habib Rahman urged the British government to reconsider other policies “they are generating on family immigration”, saying: “They habitually frame such policy as helping the welfare of migrants and others, whereas in truth their rules are solely aimed at limiting immigration.”