THE European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has awarded damages to a Roman Catholic couple who were prevented by UK law from marrying because one of them was an immigrant who did not yet have permission to stay in the country and did not wish to marry in an Anglican church.
When Osita Chris Iwu, a Nigerian national, and Sinead O’Donoghue, of Londonderry, became engaged in May 2006, they had to seek permission to marry under the Home Office approval scheme because Mr Iwu did not have leave to remain in the UK. There was an exemption for those who chose to marry in the Church of England; Mr Iwu, as a Roman Catholic, would not do so.
The ECHR ruled that: “A person without leave to remain who was willing and able to marry in the Church of England was free to marry unhindered. Mr Iwu, in a relatively similar position to such a person, was however both unwilling (on account of his religious beliefs) and unable (on account of his residence in Northern Ireland) to enter into such a marriage.”
The rules were changed by the House of Lords in 2006, which deemed them a breach of the right to marry. But the ECHR ruled that Mr Iwu was still “unable to marry due to the sizeable fee [£295] required to obtain authorisation”.
The court ruling also expressed “grave concerns” that, under the approval scheme, “applicants with ‘sufficient’ leave to remain qualified for certificates of approval without any apparent requirement that they submit information concerning the genuineness of the proposed marriage”.
The couple did marry in 2008, after friends provided the £295 for the fee.
The court ordered the UK Government to pay the couple €8500 in damages, £295 to cover the fee, and €16,000 for costs and expenses.