Thinking Anglicans

ECHR rules against sham marriages law

Updated Thursday

The European Court of Human Rights today declared that a government scheme was discriminatory for charging some immigrants a fee only if they are not planning to marry in the Church of England.

Read this press release from the Equality and Human Rights Commission: European Court finds marriage fee discriminatory.

See press reports:

Belfast Telegraph Couple get payout after law violated their right to wed

BBC Northern Ireland Londonderry couple ‘s victory on sham wedding law

Daily Mail European judges kill off British law that curbed sham marriages

From the press release:

The Commission submitted to the European Court of Human Rights that the scheme was wrong as a blanket ban on marrying anywhere other than a Church of England unfairly targets innocent people. The scheme could only be justified if it was actually designed in a way that could identify marriages of convenience.

The European Court ruled that “the scheme was discriminatory on the ground of religion and that …. no reasons were adduced by the Government …. which were capable of providing an objective and reasonable justification for the difference in treatment”.

And the Church of England doesn’t even operate in Northern Ireland!


Quite a lot more information about this case is now available:

UK Human Rights Blog UK scheme to police sham marriages slammed by Human Rights court

Press release from the ECHR: UK immigration law to prevent sham marriages breached the right to marry and was discriminatory (PDF)

And a link to the full text of the judgment of the court is available at O’Donoghue and Others v. the United Kingdom (application no. 34848/07).

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Cheryl Va.
13 years ago

Well, some of us aren’t that surprised that there is discrimination in the system. Good to see that others recognise that church choices does not mean that they should be entitled to state privileges, perks or exemptions. Institutions and schemes that promote wellbeing and peace are worthy of being nurtured. Marriage provides many sociological, psychological, emotional, and, for some, spiritual benefits. It is appropriate that such as worthy model should be made available to people who want to make safe and sensible choices. It’s not just the people within the marriage that benefit, but also their offspring, relatives and communities.… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Father Ron Smith
13 years ago

“And the Church of England doesn’t even operate in Northern Ireland”

Perhaps this is all there needs to be said about this amazing article! However, it does lead one to think of the possibility of any government authority being in a position to exact monetary charges in a case where civil or religious ceremonies do not take place in a specified civil or religious building.

Does Ireland have such a regime? And does it apply only to one religious denomination? This does seem like an instance of ‘over-protection’ to me.

Martin Reynolds
13 years ago

“And the Church of England doesn’t even operate in Northern Ireland” Well, No – and sort of Yes! The strange fact of disestablishment is that in marriage law it never seemed to happen ….. this is also the case here in Wales where local peasants with residence qualifications – no matter what their nationality or faith – retain the absolute right in law to be married in the parish church. This they procure by the calling of banns, or if foreign nationals preferably by Common License – though if they are illegals the bishops prefer Banns. The nobility and equestrian… Read more »

Fr Mark
Fr Mark
13 years ago

This is a tricky topic, though of course it is absurd to have special rules for C of E marriages. When I was the Anglican chaplain in a detention centre for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, I had (mainly African, particularly Nigerian) men come up to me every day and demand that I marry them as soon as possible to their British fiancees in my chapel. When I pointed out to them that their immigration status would not in any way be altered by their marriage (this was before the most recent European ruling), they invariably decided they weren’t in… Read more »

13 years ago

>The nobility and equestrian classes can marry where they like by the prerogative of the Archbishop of Canterbury

And the ten most recent examples of this alleged abuse are?

I think we need a post-Victorian critique, thanks.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x