Couple lose High Court action over refusal to allow them marry in Ireland

By Ann O'Loughlin

A couple who underwent an Islamic religious marriage in England have lost their High Court challenge to a refusal to allow them marry here in a civil ceremony.

Chaudhry Farooq, a Pakistani national, married Mavra Sajal, a UK national, in an Islamic religious marriage in Manchester in February 2015. The couple did not seek to have the marriage entered on the UK register of civil marriages.

Mr Farooq came to the UK on a student visa in late 2009 and met Ms Sajal, a student at the University of Manchester in October 2014. When they met, Mr Farooq had applied for permission to remain in the UK to complete a Masters in Business Administration in Cambridge.

The couple came to Ireland in June 2015 and applied the following month to be married here in a civil ceremony.

They had an interview with a civil registrar in October 2015 who asked them to provide letters of freedom to marry. During a subsequent interview with the registrar, they submitted a copy of an Islamic marriage certificate stating they had undergone a religious marriage ceremony under the Manchester Central Mosque in February 2015.

The registrar informed them her office was unable to determine if that marriage was recognisable under Irish law and their civil marriage here could not proceed.

In February 2017, they secured leave from the High Court to challenge the refusal in judicial review proceedings. Subsequently, in June 2017, Ms Sajal returned to the UK after being offered a full-time job there.

Because Mr Farooq could not go with her because he was ineligible for a visa to re-enter the UK, he returned to Pakistan where she has visited him once and they otherwise maintain their relationship by phone and social media.

It was argued, if they won their judicial review, they could still seek a “marriage visa” to enter and marry here.

In his reserved judgment today, Mr Justice Charles Meenan said there were “good grounds” for the registrar’s uncertainty, given the existence of the Islamic marriage, about the civil status of the parties .

The uncertainty was compounded by the fact Mr Farooq has returned to Pakistan and the registrar has no information concerning the status of the Islamic marriage there, he said. Thus the registrar was unable to conclude there was no impediment to the couple marrying here.

There was a “sound legal basis” for the registrar’s decision she could not, because of the existence of the Islamic religious marriage, be satisfied of the validity of a letter of freedom to marry provided by the couple in line with requirements of the Civil Registration Act 2004, he found.

The registrar had said the uncertainty arose because it appears, under the laws of England and Wales, marriages such as that entered into by the couple may be valid marriages even if they have not been registered.

The judge also disagreed that references by the registrar in letters to the couple suggesting they seek a declaration of marital status under Section 29 of the Family law Act 1995 amounted to imposing an impermissible condition to the issuing of a marriage registration form.

The letters provided a way, namely a declaration under Section 29, to address the couple’s problem and did not involve a “condition”, he said.

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