Church of England crackdown on sham marriages

12th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Church of England said Tuesday it would introduce increased scrutiny of wedding applications in a bid to prevent sham marriages.

Under the new rules, couples will have to apply for a marriage licence if either the bride or the groom is not from a country in the European Economic Area (EEA).

The clergy will also be urged to report any concerns they have that the marriage is only taking place to help illegal immigrants stay in Britain.

Some 155 people have been arrested in Britain as a result of criminal investigations into sham marriages.

The new guidance says that in the case of a man or woman from a non-European country, clergy should not follow the traditional route of publishing banns, where a couple's intention to marry is read out in church.

Instead, couples should apply for a "common licence", which requires the swearing of affidavits.

The new guidance comes after a vicar, Reverend Alex Brown, 61, was jailed last September for four years for overseeing Britain's biggest sham marriage scandal.

He abused his position to marry hundreds of African men to Eastern European women at a church in St Leonards-on-Sea, southeast England.

A Church of England spokesman said that while a "handful" of clergy were currently suspended pending police investigations into alleged sham marriages, "the vast majority of the 155 arrests... are of couples and their facilitators".

Immigration Minister Damian Green said the new guidance was "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."

© 2011 AFP

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