LONDON: Foreign spouses will be able to enter the UK from the age of 18 after the courts ruled that banning under-21s was not a lawful way of dealing with the problem of forced marriages.
Immigration Minister Damian Green told MPs the Government would revert to the lower age limit from November 28. The measure will benefit many Pakistani young spouses who had been affected by the ban imposed by the coalition government. One of the two families who challenged the ban were Pakistanis.
It comes after the highest court in the land rejected an appeal by Home Secretary Theresa May against a Court of Appeal decision which outlawed the ban on under-21s as “arbitrary and disruptive”.
The 4-1 majority ruling by the Supreme Court last month was a victory for two couples who had fallen victim to changes to the immigration rules that prevented non-European under 21s from obtaining visas to join their British partners in the UK.
In a written statement, Green said that while the Supreme Court recognised the Government was “pursuing a legitimate and rational aim of seeking to address forced marriage”, the ban “disproportionately interfered” with the right to the private and family life of those in genuine marriages.
“Accordingly, the secretary of state has decided to revert to a minimum age of 18,” Green said. He went on: “There is no place in British society for the practice of forced marriage. It is a breach of human rights and a form of violence against the victims.
“That is why the prime minister has announced that the Government will criminalise the breach of Forced Marriage Civil Protection Orders and that there will be a consultation on forcing someone to marry, an offence in its own right. “We are also investigating what more we can do to identify and protect those young people who have been placed at additional risk.”
The first couple at the centre of the ruling is Diego and Amber Aguilar and the second Shakira Bibi and Suhyal Mohammad. Amber, from north London, dated Diego, from Chile, while he was living in the UK with his family.
He and his family then returned to Chile, but Diego and Amber missed each other so much that Diego applied to return on a one-year student visa. The couple married in November 2008, when Amber was 17 and Diego 18. Diego was refused leave to remain as a spouse, after his student visa expired in August 2009, on the basis of his and his wife’s ages.
The Home Office accepted theirs was not a forced marriage but insisted on applying the under-21 rule. Shakira Bibi is a Pakistani national. She was married on October 30 2008 in Pakistan to Suhyal Mohammed, a UK citizen.
It was a traditional arranged marriage, but there was no suggestion it was forced. In December 2008, Ms Bibi applied for entry clearance to join her husband here. It was refused by the entry clearance officer in Islamabad on the ground that both parties were under 21.
Four Supreme Court justices – Lord Phillips, Lady Hale, Lord Clarke and Lord Wilson – agreed the ban could not stand as it infringed the right of the couples to family and private life, as protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The fifth justice, Lord Brown, disagreed and said he would have allowed the Home Secretary’s appeal and it was “unwise” for the courts “yet again to frustrate Government policy” through the use of Article 8.