On 14th March 2013 five people in Lancashire were sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 months for arranging sham marriages. Last month we reported on the case of an immigration solicitor who was sent to prison for 10 years for the same offence. Why the difference?
You may have heard this before, but we don’t have the sentencing remarks which limits the amount we can comment.
The breakdown of people and sentences are as follows :
- Kevin Donnelly – 10 months immediate
- Jason Proctor – 10 months immediate
- Amanda Nolan – 44 weeks , suspended for two years
- Denny Wallace – 36 weeks , suspended for two years
- Gemma Nelson – 36 weeks, suspended for two years
What was the offence?
It is not completely clear, but probably an offence contrary to s25 Immigration Act 1971. This reads:
A person commits an offence if he—
(a) does an act which facilitates the commission of a breach of immigration law by an individual who is not a citizen of the European Union,
(b) knows or has reasonable cause for believing that the act facilitates the commission of a breach of immigration law by the individual, and
(c) knows or has reasonable cause for believing that the individual is not a citizen of the European Union.
Why was those sentences passed?
The maximum sentence is 14 years and the Courts generally take it seriously – a custodial sentence in the 12 month region is the usual starting point for one sham marriage.
The case of Le & Stark  1 Cr App R (S) 422 gives some guidance. Whilst the maximum sentence has been increased since 1998, the aggravating factors there are still relevant. The factors identified were :
(1) it was a repeat offence
(2) committed for financial gain
(3) the defendant took a prominent role;
(4) it involved the facilitation of the entry of strangers rather than family members
(5) it involved a large number of illegal entrants
(6) a high degree of organisation and planning was evident
Here, it appears that it was not particularly sophisticated offending and may only have involved one marriage each (although the reporting is not completely clear), but was done for gain. It seems that Ms Nelson may have pleaded guilty, but the other four were all found guilty after a trial, so they would not have received any credit.
It did however lack the sophistication, scale and breach of trust of the Souleiman case which means it would certainly merit a lower sentence.
Notwithstanding that, in the circumstances the sentences seem pretty leniant and immediate custody for 12-18 months would be what would be expected. There may well be very good reasons for the sentences but, in the absence of more details, we aren’t able to say why those sentences were passed.