Daily Mail (London), June 25, 2007
Three in every four register office weddings taking place in some parts of Britain may have been a “sham” to allow immigrants to live in the country, it has emerged
The scale of the scandal, which Labour ignored for many years, has been revealed for the first time by a huge reduction in the number of ceremonies taking place.
Since a belated crackdown was ordered in February 2005, the number of couples tying the knot in register offices has fallen by 72 per cent in the London borough of Newham, from 1,834 to 507.
Across the capital, unions fell by 36 per cent. The number of marriages, including those at churches, plunged by at least 10,000.
In Birmingham, register office weddings were down by 17 per cent, from 3,617 in 2004/5 to 3,013 last year.
Mark Rimmer, director of registration and nationality at Brent Council, who first raised the alarm about the sham marriage practice, said: “Most people will be absolutely amazed and gobsmacked by the scale of it.”
He said that, even accounting for an overall 10 per cent fall in the number of marriages taking place in all venues last year, it suggests a quarter of weddings in London were bogus.
Registrars, including Mr Rimmer, began warning the Home Office of a huge increase in suspected bogus weddings around five years ago.
Gangs charge up to £10,000 to arrange sham weddings on behalf of migrants desperate to live here.
People with a right to live in Britain, often from other EU countries were paid up to £2,000 a time to take part in the sham weddings. Often, they did not even know their partner’s full name or background.
By marrying, the migrant was allowed to remain in Britain and move freely around the EU.
But, despite clear evidence of abuse, it was only in February 2005 that weddings involving a person subject to immigration controls were made the subject of new rules.
Since that date, all migrants must to seek a Home Office Certificate of Approval before a ceremony can take place.
These are only given to those who already have leave to remain in Britain, albeit temporarily. Ceremonies must also take place at designated.
The crack down has since been watered down by the courts. In May this year, Mr Justice Buxton said asking migrants to prove their relationship was genuine breached their human right to marry, and to not be discriminated against.
He said the Home Office must no longer treat all weddings as suspicious, and could only act if there was evidence of a sham union. Ministers insisted it would not undermine the policy.
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: “Sham marriages are an abuse of the immigration rules and the certificate of approval process is an effective countermeasure.
“Since we introduced these checks, in February 2005, the number of suspicious marriage reports received from registrars has collapsed 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.”