Bogus Marriages Tackled by Church of England

Published: 20/04/2011

With an on-going focus on reducing bogus marriages, the tradition of reading church banns is set to be dropped. The change is specifically with regard to non-EU nationals wishing to get married in the UK, with UK Border Agency (UKBA) officials certainly keen to ensure all UK marriages are genuine.
Following new guidance from the Church of England’s House of Bishops, “In the case of any intended marriage where a party is a non-EEA (European Economic Area) national, the clergy should not offer to publish banns, instead the couple should be directed to apply for a common licence.”
The EEA is the whole of the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, and the Great British tradition of reading or publishing banns prior to a wedding is when the official intention and request to get married in a Church is read out on three consecutive Sundays before the wedding date, giving people with any objection the chance to comment.
The new ‘common licence’ will be subject to a £100 fee and will need to be signed off by a bishop following a series of stringent checks on the couple wishing to get married in the UK, prior to any UK settlement marriage visa being granted. These checks will include a home visit and the verification of a series of documents. If there are any concerns as to the validity of the relationship, information will be passed to immigration officers at the UK Border Agency.
The rules clarify that this ‘common licence’ will be required by any non-EEA national, including countries such as South Africa, America and Australia as well as those countries which have a greater risk to illegal immigration. The Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds added, “The House of Bishops is clear that the office of Holy Matrimony must not be misused by those who have no intention of contracting a genuine marriage but merely a sham marriage. The purpose of this guidance and direction from the Bishops to the clergy and to those responsible for the grant of common licences is, therefore, to prevent the contracting of sham marriages in the Church of England.”
This new guidance has come from the Church of England with the full support of the UK Border Agency, and comes at a time when the reported instances of sham marriages has tripled in the UK over the past four years, with 934 cases. It will now be far harder for bogus marriages to be conducted in a church, even though the recent proposed restrictions to handle sham marriages outside of the Church of England has recently been scrapped.
UK Border Agency government minister Damien Green MP said, “The UK Border Agency already works very closely with the Church not only to investigate and disrupt suspected sham weddings but also to provide advice and support. The new guidance being launched today by the Church of England is another step in the right direction in tackling these abuses.”

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