By Steve Jenkins, Church of England Communications Office
New guidance aimed at preventing sham marriages in the Church of England is being sent to clergy and legal officers by the House of Bishops. The guidance has been agreed with the UK Border Agency and was today approved by Immigration Minister Damian Green.
“The House of Bishops is clear,” said the Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, “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.”
Immigration Minister Damian Green 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.
“Increasing enforcement action has resulted in 155 arrests across the country and would-be fraudsters should remember that a marriage itself does not equal an automatic right to remain in the UK.”
The guidance, developed with the UKBA, advises clergy not to offer to publish banns for any intended marriage involving a non-EEA (European Economic Area) national but to direct the couple to apply for a common licence, which involves greater scrutiny and the swearing of affidavits.
If a member of the clergy is not satisfied that the marriage is genuine, he or she must make that clear to the person responsible for granting the licence, it says. If the couple insist on having banns read rather than applying for a common licence, the guidance says, clergy should report it immediately to diocesan legal officers and require verifiable evidence of the couple’s right to marriage by banns, such as a driving licence and official correspondence in their original forms.
They should verify the addresses given and visit the couple at the address in question. If there is any doubt, they should seek advice from their diocesan registrar. Clergy have a duty to explain to all couples the Church’s doctrine of marriage and their obligations as married persons. If the couple decline to attend such meetings, clergy should inform them the marriage cannot take place until they do.
The guidance makes clear that clergy who decline to conduct a wedding for such reasons will not be considered guilty of misconduct. Any member of the clergy who thinks that he or she has been subjected to threats or any other improper pressure in connection with an intended marriage, the guidance says, should immediately report the matter to the police, the archdeacon and the diocesan legal officers.
Each diocese will have a dedicated contact point within the UK Border Agency to enable information and documentation to be shared. Clergy will also receive a UK Border Agency briefing on sham marriages, including factors that might arouse suspicion.
Notes to Editors
The guidance in full can be read at: http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/churchlawlegis/guidance
The arrangements set out in the Guidance have been approved by Immigration Minister Damian Green, under the Equality Act 2010. This means that the arrangements in the Guidance are put on an equivalent footing to the special arrangements that apply to non-EEA nationals who wish to marry in register offices and that the clergy will not be prevented from following the Guidance by anything in the Equality Act.
Written Ministerial approval has been provided today which brings the new guidance into immediate effect. The Home Office will also lay a Written Ministerial Statement in early May approving these arrangements under the Equality Act 2010.
For case studies of UK Border Agency action to tackle sham marriages call the Home Office Press Office on 020 7035 3815.