Mass of media coverage surrounding ‘sham marriages’
‘Sham marriages’, where a couple is not in a genuine relationship but are instead hoping to improve their immigration status, have been a hot topic in the media in the past few weeks. This guest post from legal writer Sara Zadeh takes a look at some of the coverage below.
“Sham Wedding Crashers”
The mass of media coverage is in part owing to Channel 5’s recent documentary ‘The Sham Wedding Crashers’, which sought to shed light on this social and legal phenomena.
The documentary followed undercover journalists Paul Connolly and Harriet Morter taking part in an undercover sham marriage sting. Morter, posing as a prospective bride, met with a sham marriage fixer who she had found advertising his services as a ‘matchmaker’ on a classified ad site. She was soon set up with Ali, an Indian national who wanted to marry a British citizen in order to obtain a British passport; he offered to pay her £5,000 to marry him, a further £10,000 if she had his baby and £400 for the fixer who facilitated the set up. The documentary then followed the ‘couple’ buying a ring, trying on wedding dresses, hiring a Rolls-Royce and fabricating a back-story, in order to make their marriage appear authentic. Despite these efforts, the groom forgot several basic details about his ‘bride’ when they were interviewed by the a registrar. The registrar subsequently notified his concerns to the Home Office – who later claimed that this report had “slipped through the net”.The ceremony only ceased when fellow journalist Connolly, who had posed both as Morter’s brother and as the best man, dramatically intervened when the registrar asked if anyone knew of “any legal reason why the marriage should not take place”; he then revealed the sting and informed the groom and matchmaker that they had been recording the entire process.
Collapse of high-profile sham marriage trials
The airing of this documentary follows the catastrophic collapse of two prominent sham marriage trials in recent weeks – due to allegations of serious misconduct and a paperwork blunder.
In what had been deemed “Britain’s biggest” sham marriage case ever, Reverend Nathan Ntege was accused of conducting 494 sham marriages between 2007 and 2011; in a £1 million trial, he was alleged to have run a bogus “matrimonial conveyor belt” by marrying a mass of EU brides to grooms without EU citizenship. Ntege’s case was dramatically dropped after Judge Nic Madge determined there had been “serious misconduct” by immigration officials. Two officials, who have been accused of hiding evidence and lying under oath, have been suspended whilst the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates; it has been said that they may potentially face criminal charges due to their conduct in the case.
In a separate trial, Mohammed Mattar was similarly accused of conducting an array of sham marriages; he was alleged to have carried out 580 sham marriages between 2008 and 2012 whilst working as an Imam at the Dar Al Dawa Islamic Centre. His case was also dropped last week, this time due to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) allegedly missing the legal deadlines to provide the defence with paperwork. The CPS alleged that the Home Office had failed to provide them with the paperwork in time, which led to them being unable to fulfill their disclosure obligations to Mr Mattar’s lawyer; this rendered the CPS unable to provide any evidence after their request for an adjournment was refused. The Home Office and CPS have faced damning criticism due to this.
It has been estimated that there are up to 10,000 sham marriages in the UK per annum – more than 1 every hour. In the Channel 5 documentary, Mark Rimmer, a Superintendent Registrar for over 20 years, stated that he believed 1 out of every 5 marriages conducted in London are “suspicious” and that “the goal is always the British passport”, which he deemed to be “like gold dust”.
This was a guest post by Sara Zadeh who is interested in all aspects of Family Law. She studied Criminology and Applied Psychology and has completed the Graduate Diploma in Law and Legal Practice Course. Sara is currently volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau and Disability Advice Centre.