- Ghanaian man has fought a landmark four-year legal battle to live in Britain
- He had a ‘proxy wedding’ 3,000 miles away which he did not even attend
- Neither Albert Awuku, 43, or his German bride needed to be present
- Instead, they are thought to have been represented by their families in accordance with Ghana’s ‘customary law’ on marriages
Foreign nationals can get UK residency by marrying EU citizens in overseas ceremonies which they do not even have to attend, it emerged last night.
Details of the little-known practice have been spelled out in the case of a Ghanaian man, who has fought a four-year legal battle to live in Britain following a ‘proxy wedding’ 3,000 miles away.
Neither Albert Awuku, 43, or his bride – a German citizen who can live in the UK under EU free movement rules – needed to be present at their nuptials in Ghana in February 2013.
Instead, they are thought to have been represented by their families in accordance with the country’s ‘customary law’ on marriages.
At such weddings, the groom’s father typically offers gifts and drink to the bride’s father for her hand in marriage.
Months after the couple tied the knot, their marriage was registered in Ghana and the wedding certificate used in Britain in a bid to win residency rights for Mr Awuku.
Mr Awuku’s solicitor, Jennifer Owusu-Barnieh, pictured, defines proxy marriage as ‘the process where a couple can get married with their consent but without being present at the ceremony’
As there were no exit or entry stamps from Ghana or the UK on his passport to show he had attended the ceremony, his marriage was considered by the Home Office to have ‘taken place by proxy’.
Then-home secretary Theresa May refused his application for residency because she was not satisfied Mr Awuku’s ‘claimed marriage’ was registered in accordance with Ghanaian law.
Her decision was later overturned by a judge at a first-tier immigration tribunal – who was happy with the documents provided by the couple and satisfied the wedding was ‘properly executed’.
But Mrs May appealed to a higher tribunal and won. However, Mr Awuku then went to the Appeal Court to challenge that ruling, claiming that his human right to a family life with his wife – who is of Ghanaian descent – had been breached.
Now after a four-year battle, Mr Awuku – represented by human rights barrister Zane Malik and a London-based solicitor specialising in proxy marriages – has scored a major victory at the Appeal Court which has paved the way for him to be granted residency in the UK.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones said: ‘The law of England and Wales recognises proxy marriage if valid by the lex loci celebrationis (law of the land).
‘Accordingly a spouse of an EU national who has concluded such a marriage will qualify as a family member.’
The ruling came after current Home Secretary Amber Rudd apparently ‘changed her position’ and invited judges to allow the appeal.
It comes three years after a watchdog report said proxy ceremonies – legal in countries including Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil – are becoming increasingly common in immigration applications.
John Vine, chief inspector of borders and immigration, said in June 2014 that more than 80 per cent of 29 sample proxy marriages that involved an EU national marrying a non-European partner proved to be invalid.
In the report, Mr Vine revealed his inspection found increasing attempts to exploit the EU’s free movement rules.
‘The European route is becoming an increasingly important way into the UK for those whose origins lie outside the European Economic Association area, particularly now that the immigration rules have been tightened,’ he added.
‘I found that many of the non-EEA spouses refused residence cards were overstayers.’
There is no suggestion Mr Awuku’s marriage was designed to subvert immigration rules, or that he entered or remained in the UK unlawfully.
While the court documents do not go into detail about his background, inquiries by the Daily Mail in Ghana found a man with Mr Awuku’s name and date of birth was born the son of a marine fitter in Tema, a port about 15 miles from the capital Accra.
Neighbours of the humble property in a bustling suburb of the city did not remember him and his family. It is believed his proxy marriage was registered in a district outside the capital.
The Mail was unable to contact Mr Awuku, with his whereabouts unclear last night. His family in Ghana could not be reached, and neither his barrister Mr Malik or solicitor Jennifer Owusu-Barnieh responded to requests for comment.
The Home Office declined to answer specific questions about Mr Awuku’s case, including whether he had officially been granted residency.
It said: ‘The judgment of the Court of Appeal confirms that it is for the rules of private international law in the law of England and Wales to determine whether a proxy marriage can be recognised.
‘Whether to recognise such marriages is decided under the rules in our national law.
‘A proxy marriage will generally be recognised if it is legally valid in the country in which it was contracted.
‘There is also a requirement under our law that the parties should have had capacity to enter into the marriage.
‘All cases are given full and careful consideration to prevent any opportunities for abuse of any kind.’
Loophole for couples who can’t legally wed in Britain
A blog post by Mr Awuku’s solicitor, Jennifer Owusu-Barnieh, defines proxy marriage as ‘the process where a couple can get married with their consent but without being present at the ceremony’.
The piece on the website of her law firm, Danbar Solicitors in north-west London, goes on to suggest that some migrants have turned to proxy weddings as a means of staying in Britain, after the authorities banned those who are in the country illegally from marrying.
Potential clients are told: ‘The Home Office has through policy banned illegal immigrants from getting married in the United Kingdom. Proxy marriage became their next challenge.’
Further advice says: ‘A Ghanaian and a British or European can have a proxy marriage in Ghana.
‘The proxy marriage is then registered and a certificate is issued. The couple can then make an application to the Home Office to obtain leave to be in the UK.’
The senior partner at the law firm, who has appeared on Ghanaian radio advertising her firm’s services, also discussed the ‘Home Office’s dilemma’ in dealing with such cases, even pointing out the risk of proxy marriage being abused.
She wrote: ‘BOOM! The Home Office is receiving marriage certificates from people that through government policy … could not get married in the UK.
‘You guessed something had to be done in relation to such marriage certificates which to be fair could be abused.’