Tough rules to stop illegal immigrants using sham marriages to get in to the country were declared unlawful by the Appeal Court yesterday.
Judges said regulations brought in two years ago to block thousands of alleged “marriages of convenience” breached human rights laws.
Hundreds of couples who say they have been prevented from marrying may now try to claim compensation.
Under the regime, introduced by David Blunkett when he was home secretary, non-European Union citizens effectively needed Government permission to marry. They had to attend designated register offices and pay £135 for a certificate of approval.
The Appeal Court—upholding an earlier High Court ruling—said this was a “disproportionate interference” in the human right to marry.
Lord Justice Buxton said the scheme could only be lawful if it prevented sham marriages intended to improve the immigration status of one of the parties.
“To be proportionate, a scheme 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,” said Lord Buxton.
“It must also show that the marriages targeted do indeed make substantial inroads into the enforcement of immigration control.”
One Whitehall estimate suggested 10,000 marriages a year were bogus. The official figure was around 3,700 in 2004.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said he was considering an appeal. “Since we introduced these checks the number of suspicious marriage reports has collapsed from 3,740 to less than 300 by the end of May 2005,” he said.