European ruling challenges UK immigration law

A RULING by the European Community's highest court yesterday has questioned the legality of a key principle of British immigration law.

It has undermined the 'primary purpose rule' enshrined 10 years ago in the Immigration Act, which lays down that when foreigners married to British citizens come to live in this country, they must prove that the marriage's primary purpose was not just to win the right of residence.

This controversial rule is much stricter than the equivalent European Community principle, which allows all EC citizens to bring spouse and children with them when they move to another EC country, no matter what the primary purpose of the marriage.

Yesterday's decision by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg establishes that a British citizen who comes home after a period of working elsewhere in the EC can claim the same rights as citizens of other Community countries. As a result, the Government may well find its primary purpose rule struck down by the court if it tries to apply it to the spouses of British citizens who have worked elsewhere in Europe.

The ruling was welcomed by immigration and human rights organisations yesterday. 'This judgment has the potential to drive a coach and horses through the 'primary purpose' marriage rule which has caused family division and heartbreak for UK citizens for more than a decade,' Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said.

Although some politicians were yesterday voicing concern that the ruling undermined Britain's right to control immigration, Nuala Mole, director of Interights, the human rights group, said: 'This judgment upgrades the rights of British citizens to bring them in line with other Community nationals, when they enter the UK.'

The nub of yesterday's case was whether Rashpal Purewal, a British citizen, had the right to bring her husband, Surinder Singh, back to Britain with her after working in Germany between 1983 and 1985. Had she been a citizen of another EC country, her right would have not been in dispute. But the Government applied British, rather than EC, law to her case.

When she and Mr Singh began divorce proceedings in 1987, the authorities cut short his leave to stay in Britain. They issued a deportation order against him in 1988, even though his divorce had not yet become absolute.

In deciding that EC law should take precedence - and thus that the decision to deport Mr Singh was wrong - the court said that one of the aims of the Treaty of Rome which set up the EC was to abolish obstacles to freedom of movement inside the Community.

If the Government's policy were allowed to stand, Britons might be deterred from working in other EC countries by the fear that they might be separated from their spouse - or their children - on their return.

Because it applies only to Britons who have worked elsewhere in the EC, the ruling is believed unlikely to produce a wave of new immigrants.

But in those cases where British citizens come home married after working elsewhere in the EC, immigration officers are likely to lose the right to ask what was the primary purpose of the marriage.

The judgment is unlikely to affect Mr Singh, however. According to his counsel, he is still living in Britain, but is now married to another British citizen.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue
E L James's book Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

It's hard to understand why so many are buying it – but then best-selling was ever an inexact science, says DJ Taylor
Behind the scenes of the world's most experimental science labs

World's most experimental science labs

The photographer Daniel Stier has spent four years gaining access to some of the world's most curious scientific experiments
It's the stroke of champions - so why is the single-handed backhand on the way out?

Single-handed backhand: on the way out?

If today's young guns wish to elevate themselves to the heights of Sampras, Graf and Federer, it's time to fire up the most thrilling shot in tennis
HMS Saracen: Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled

HMS Saracen

Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'

7/7 bombings 10 years on

Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'