A young woman with learning difficulties was “deliberately targeted” for a sham marriage to bolster a man’s immigration case, a High Court judge has ruled.
A wedding ceremony was found to be invalid and declared a “non-marriage” in the Court of Protection case. The 19-year-old woman, known only as SY to protect her identity, has an IQ of just 49 with a learning disability that leaves her “extremely vulnerable”.
A 23-year-old man from Pakistan, known as TK, approached her for a relationship in August 2011, just two months after he had exhausted all appeal rights in his immigration case. In June 2012 there was a purported Islamic marriage ceremony at his home but no legal registration of the marriage took place.
Mr Justice Keehan said in a written ruling: “I can reach no other conclusion than he deliberately targeted SY because of her learning difficulties and her vulnerability. The courts will not tolerate such gross exploitation.”
TK lost his final legal bid to stay in the UK in July 2012. He had used the marriage as the basis of an appeal against his asylum refusal, saying that he feared his family would kill him if he returned home, since his new ‘wife’ was white British.
Justice Keehan said: “It is plain on the facts of this case, especially taking account of the immigration judgement handed down on 17 July 2012 in respect of TK’s asylum appeal, that TK exploited and took advantage of SY for the purpose of seeking to bolster his immigration appeal and his prospects of being permitted to remain in this country.”
The tribunal judge at TK’s immigration appeal said of his ‘marriage’ to SY: “The relationship, if there is one, does not have the necessary qualities of commitment, depth and intimacy to demonstrate family life.” He later added: “viewed objectively her best interests are likely to be served by there being no further interference by [TK] and his friends”.
Brought up in foster care for much of her life, SY now lives in a specialist residential home with five other people. The Court of Protection was asked by SY’s local authority to rule on whether it could make decisions on her behalf and what was in her best interests.
She has been known to the council since 2005, when she was just 11 and there were concerns about her missing school and staying overnight at older men’s homes. The judge described “numerous incidents” involving SY being known to local authority over the years, including underage sexual relations, physical and sexual assaults including alleged rapes and witnessing domestic violence.
There is growing evidence that the practice of forcing Britons with learning difficulties into marriage for visa purposes is widespread. Government statistics show 114 cases of forced marriage involving victims with mental health problems were recorded last year - up from just 26 in 2009.
Experts believe the increase is down to better investigations and more whistleblowing, rather than a rise in the crime. Natasha Rattu, operation manager at the forced marriage charity, Karma Nirvana, said: “We’re noticing an increase in these kinds of cases being discovered. I think there’s been a culture where professionals had wanted to brush these issues under the carpet for fear of being seen as culturally insensitive. But now there’s a stronger movement towards a zero tolerance approach.”
Victims of forced marriage with mental health problems are just as likely to be men as women. In August a judge provoked outrage when he refused to annul the marriage of a mentally incapacitated Sikh man from the West Midlands whose parents had imported a wife from India for him.