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Church in 'sham marriage' crackdown

The Church of England is to tighten the scrutiny of applications to get married in an effort to prevent sham unions.

New guidance will be issued to clergy and legal officers in the Church of England by the House of Bishops. It will be agreed with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and have the backing of Immigration Minister Damian Green.

Clergy are being advised not to offer to publish banns - where a couple's intention to marry is read out on three Sundays in church - for marriages involving non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals.

These couples will have to apply for a "common licence" where they have to swear affidavits, give proof of identity and address, be visited by the vicar and attend wedding preparation classes.

If a vicar is not satisfied that an intended marriage is genuine, he or she will have to make this clear to the diocesan legal office responsible for granting the licence.

Clergy will have to report a couple "immediately" to diocesan legal officers if they insist on having banns read rather than applying for a common licence.

The Church said clergy who refuse to conduct a wedding as a result of the guidance will not be considered guilty of misconduct. Vicars have also been urged to contact the police immediately if they are being threatened or pressured to carry out a marriage.

The Right Reverend John Packer, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, told BBC Radio 4: "Because we take marriage seriously, we do want to ensure that people are actually genuine in their marriage and we are not being used to con clergy. It comes from clergy who have in some cases been very suspicious of a particular couple and haven't been quite sure what to do about that.

"In many cases, they have done exactly what we are encouraging them to do now and looked to a registrar, a lawyer in the diocese, for a licence. We are making that more general in order to seek to prevent sham marriages."

He added: "Some clergy, in some parishes, in cities are being asked on a fairly frequent basis (to conduct sham marriages) and therefore they need a way to help distinguish between sham marriages and genuine ones."


From Belfast Telegraph