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The BBC’s Inside Out Yorkshire programme ran a  story tonight on sham marriages, trailed in a BBC News item the day before. There are six days left to watch the programme on iPlayer if for some reason you would like to see it.

As with Team UK Border Force: World Police on Sky, I can’t bring myself to watch it for fear of my damaging my television. If anyone else did manage to put themselves through it, do let me know in the comments below whether there was any coverage of genuine weddings that were disrupted and ruined. I dealt with such a case just recently. The registrar at Islington Registry Office had tipped off UKBA, who failed to realise that a Certificate of Approval had already been granted and that it was an obviously genuine relationship. They duly swept in and stopped the marriage and even detained one of the parties. Can you imagine it, on what is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life?

In an odd coincidence a Freedom of Information request just came back with the information on numbers of convictions in sham marriage cases. There has been a sharp increase between 2010 and 2011, with 87 in 2010 and 229 in 2011.

A breakdown of the convictions was also provided, and it makes interesting reading. Of the 229 offences in 2011, for example, 7 were for bigamy, 83 were for assisting unlawful immigration, 30 were offences under the Perjury Act 1911 for making a false statement with reference to marriage and 12 were for conspiracy. 31 convictions were for possession of a false identity document under the Identity Cards Act 2006, which suggests that the offence came to light as a result of the sham marriage rather than being intrinsically involved in it and may well represent multiple convictions for the same individual. 4 convictions are described as ‘common law’ – anyone any ideas on what that might refer to?

So there you go, sham marriages do lead to convictions and there has been a marked increase in the number convictions in the last year or so. However, the headline number of convictions probably exaggerates the total number of incidents because some of those convictions will be multiple counts against one person.

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


3 Responses

  1. Just watched it out of curiosity. It’s only a ten minute report (first in the program). Two interruptions to weddings on the same day were briefly shown.

    First wedding: groom deported. Bride and witnesses released. Second wedding: bride, groom and two wintesses charged with conspiracy to breach immigration rules, bride and groom charged with perjury.

    An informative report, apart from a brief interview with Damien Green.

    It was mentioned in the program that officers have to enter venues discreetly because some organised gangs have people out looking for UKBA/police officers. Unsurprising as it is known that gangs arrange marriages, not only in the UK.

    These gangs and their customers, as well as individuals who deceive a partner and marry only for immigration rather than to be with their partner, make things difficult for the overwhelming majority and I see nothing wrong with the UKBA acting.

    There were no reports of genuine weddings that were interrupted. When that happens, the problem is not the targetting of sham marriages, it is the UKBA getting the facts wrong, so that area is where solutions need to be sought.

    When German immigration authorities suspect a marriage is (or would be) a sham, both parties are required to attend simultaneous separate questioning as part of the visa application process, where they are asked a series of questions about themselves and their partner, on any subjects other than sex/intimacy. Answers are then compared. In case of refusal the court examines the records and other evidence/documents if the applicant appeals.

    A solution may be to require this of partners in the UK where there is suspicion, as genuine couples will pass it and have no further issues. If stopping a marriage in this manner is not compatible with the ECHR, then the questioning in suspicious cases can be part of the FLR(M)/EEA2 application procedure. This seems to work well in Germany where it also replaces the onerous burden on every applicant, suspicious or not, to show cohabitation or ongoing contact through documents, some of which may be quite personal and/or hard to obtain.

    Hope this doesn’t come across as right wing and/or anti-migrant. I just think there needs to be a way to target such gangs etc, including for the sake of all the genuine applicants. Obviously there needs to be a way which does not disrupt genuine weddings, so that’s where modifications are desirable.

  2. Interesting comments on the German practice, thanks. I’m wondering how couples that don’t know each other well (e.g. because they have an arranged marriage) could answer these questions. Many cultures frown upon contact before marriage (to put it mildly).

    1. If the circumstances are consistent with the cultural background of the parties and the norms in their cultures then that will not cause it to be a suspicious case, hence no separate simultaneous questioning.

      For eg. if a large age gap or some other cuircumstance is known not to be normal in the culture of the parties then suspicion may arise. But if the circumstances are all normal in that culture, they won’t arise just because the marriage was arranged according to those cultural norms. The questioning is primarily where it is suspected that the migrating party is deceiving the fiance/spouse solely to migrate and/or has paid organised gangs to find a spouse and/or the couple have come to a private arrangement to pretend to be in a relationship to facilitate a visa etc.