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Making a successful application for a visa – why good legal advice is so important

We’ve just been involved in a case that really highlights the importance of good legal advice at the right stage of a visa application. The consequences of not getting it right could be serious and make it very difficult to overturn a negative decision. 

Sanjeev Sharma recently acted for an elderly Indian lady who wished to visit her son, his wife and her grandchildren in the UK. She had previously applied for a visit visa on a number of occasions and was refused. She had used legal representatives for some of the previous applications and submitted some applications on her own.

He explains:

“Being a widow and living on her own it is always difficult to convince an entry clearance officer that she has the required intention to return, as she has nothing that ties her to India, her only son is in the UK and he provides her with financial support also.

“After careful consideration of the evidence and preparation of the application the application was submitted with a strong covering letter setting out how our client met each aspect of the immigration rule.

“The importance of front loading such applications can not be overstated, as there is no right of appeal except on the grounds of family life. The only other option if refused is a judicial review. Therefore you need to ensure that everything you want to say and rely on is stated from the outset and reference to the evidence is made. If a judicial review is then pursued it is easier to argue that the entry clearance officer’s decision was unreasonable.”

In this case, despite its history of refusals our client was granted a five year multiple visit visa.  Both client and son were over the moon.

We can’t stress enough the importance of getting good quality legal advice before any application is made. The immigration rules are extremely complex and always changing.  We work hard to make sure we are completely up to date with all of the latest rules and regulations, and we have also been involved in several high profile cases challenging the way the rules are designed and implemented. 

For advice on any immigration issue please come to one of our free advice sessions, we hold at least two a week. They take place on Thursdays and Saturdays at our Birmingham offices, as well as two sessions a month in Telford and one in Leicester on the first Saturday of each month. You don’t need to have an appointment, simply drop-in while the sessions are running. 

If you can’t make one of the drop-in sessions you can get in touch with our specialist immigration team

Birmingham Law Society, Law Firm of the Year - Team Shot Image

Commercial / Contracts Civil Litigation Solicitor Position

Join Our Team – Commercial/Contracts Civil Litigation Solicitor Job

An exciting opportunity to join an award-winning law firm. 

We are looking for a civil litigation solicitor with minimum 2 years PQE. The role compromises of working on a varied mixed case load of matters dealing with commercial litigation, debt recovery  and contract disputes. The ideal candidate should be ambitious and confident to conduct cases from start to finish, already have experience in these areas, work independently when required, conduct advocacy at an appropriate level and have creative ideas to expand and promote the department. 

J M Wilson Solicitors are the Birmingham Law Society Law Firm of the Year (up to 4 partners) and we are shortlisted for the Law Society Awards later this year.  We are a community firm, looking for a friendly solicitor who wants to mutually benefit from helping us grow and expand our services.

Salary will be competitive and dependent on experience.

To apply please send your cv and a covering letter to Jenny@jmwilsonsolicitors.com by the end of October. 

Is my Islamic or religious marriage ceremony valid in the UK?

Up until last week the answer was no, an Islamic or religious marriage ceremony was not valid the UK. However a recent High Court case has thrown this question into doubt. The Marriage Act 1949 requires a marriage to take place in a register office, approved premises or a place of religious worship such as a Church, Mosque, Temple or Gurdwara that has been officially registered for marriages. It must be in the presence of the Registrar of Marriages or an authorised person, this can be a priest or imam registered by the approved place above.  

The couple would therefore either have a separate register office wedding (civil ceremony) in addition to their religious ceremony or if the venue where the religious marriage took place is an approved premises or a place of worship the registration takes place there. 

What happens if one person wants a divorce?

This has caused difficulties because many people believe their religious ceremony is all that is required for their marriage to be a legal and valid marriage in the UK despite it not taking place in an approved place or by an authorised person. For example many Islamic marriages (known as nikahs) take place at the person’s home or in a restaurant. The couple may not consider this to be a problem as they see themselves married in the eyes of their religion. 

However should they separate and seek a divorce then this is where issues can arise. Without the marriage being recognised as valid, neither party can have a divorce under English law. Not only this they cannot then access financial claims under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1979 (MCA) against the other spouse. Such financial claims can ensure a fair split of the couples’ assets and claims such as spousal maintenance  (payments each month from one spouse to the other) can be made under this Act. 

High Court decision on the status of a nikah

This is what happened in the High Court case of Nasreen Akhtar (wife) and Mohammed Shabaz Khan (husband). Their nikah took place in a restaurant conducted by an imam in accordance with Islamic law. The venue was not an approved premises and the imam was not an authorised person. They did not follow this religious ceremony up with a civil one at the register office. They went on to have children together and were known by all in their community as husband and wife. They later split up.  

The husband claimed they were never married as their marriage was not registered in the UK and therefore a non-valid marriage. The wife claimed their nikah should be classed as a marriage under UK law thus giving her access to making a financial claim under the more generous MCA. The judge, Mr Justice Williams ruled the marriage was valid under UK law. 

He said, ‘those that have remained married for a number of years, raised a family and have been treated  by all as husband and wife should not have the term non-marriage applied to them.’ The judge however stressed the facts of this case were particular to this couple. Nasreen Akhtar is now free to go on and make a financial claim against her husband which no doubt will see her being afforded a more generous award under the MCA 1979 than she would have received if she were treated as just a cohabitee. 

What does this mean for couples embarking on marriage?

So what does this mean for couples about to embark on a religious marriage? Do they need to bother with a separate civil marriage, or even have the ceremony in an approved place?  The answer is not clear. The law is now uncertain in this area until further legal guidance is given either by the courts or by Parliament. It would be wise to continue to register all marriages along side the religious marriage until such time as clarification is given. 

Not only does this case leave a question mark over the validity of religious marriages but it opens up a whole new debate for people that are vulnerable, married against their will not to mention bogus, sham marriages. At present the Registrar of Marriages or authorised person has been specially trained to ensure probing questions are asked of the couple and the reason for marriage. Surely this safeguard is at risk with this recent decision. 

For advice on the legal status of a marriage and the implications in a divorce case please contact our Head of Family Law, Jenny Sharma. First appointments are free and all advice is given in strict confidence. 

Disappointing news from the Home Office in asylum case

We’re very disappointed by the latest news from the Home Office in a case that we are currently working on.  Iram Shazadi and her son Muhammed Ali have had their application for asylum turned down and appeals have been unsuccessful.

Our Director, and the solicitor working on the case, Sanjeev Sharma explains:

“This case is another example of the Home Office creating a hostile environment for immigrants. This mother and son have had nothing but obstacles in their path since their escape from Pakistan. Despite their asylum claim not being accepted the medical condition of both of them speaks volumes and the risk to their health if returned to Pakistan. The Home Office need to start showing some compassion and humanity to genuine cases that are backed up with objective medical evidence like this one.”

Thanks to the media including the BBC for highlighting this case, we will continue to do what we can to keep them safe.

Our solicitors take on many cases on behalf of families who are facing difficulties claiming asylum and immigration issues.  The recent Windrush scandal has shown how hard it can be to make a case, even when you do have the right to live in this country.

If you know anyone who needs advice on asylum, visas or immigration, please ask them to get in touch.

Contact details for our immigration team are here.

J M Wilson Solicitors shortlisted for prestigious legal awards

We are delighted to say that we have been shortlisted for the Law Society’s prestigious Excellence Awards, the highest accolade for law firms in England and Wales.  This follows our success at the Birmingham Law Society Awards earlier this year.

We have been shortlisted in the 2018 Law Firm of the Year – Small (2-4 partners) category.

Sanjeev Sharma, Director, said: “Last year we had three cases decided by the Supreme Court. We  were successful in two and partially successful in the other one, confirming our position as leaders in human rights and immigration law.  In 2017 we also extended our free immigration legal advice sessions to cover Telford as well as Leicester and Birmingham.  Our Family Law cases continue to receive brilliant feedback from the clients we work with, and we have recently opened a civil and litigation department.

“We are also proud sponsors of a local school football team, the Broadway Raiders, who have also had a fantastic year, winning the vast majority of their games.”

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: “There are more than 9,000 firms and 140,000 solicitors in England and Wales, so to be shortlisted for an Excellence Award is to be recognised as being among the best of the best.

“All the firms and solicitors who are shortlisted should be congratulated for the work they do day-in day-out to support their clients, many of whom are navigating complex and challenging legal problems.

“At a time of immense pressure on the justice system, the incredible work being done by solicitors across the country should be applauded.”

Winners are announced at the Law Society’s Excellence Awards ceremony in London on 17 October.

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What are the grounds for getting divorced?

The recent Supreme Court decision of Tini Owens raises the thorny issue of whether the current divorce law should be changed to include a ‘no fault’ option for parties who want to get divorced. 

Currently there is only one ground for divorce, the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The party starting the divorce must choose from one of five facts to prove that ground. These are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two years separation with both parties consenting, five years separation and finally desertion.

If, like in Tini Owens case, you have a spouse that does not want a divorce, has not committed adultery and you have not been separated for over 5 years, then your only fact to use would be unreasonable behaviour. To prove this you have to cite reasons why you can no longer remain living your spouse due to their behaviour being unreasonable. 

In Tini Owens case the Supreme Court judges unanimously rejected her appeal against a decision that said Mr Owens behaviour, as cited by Mrs Owen in her divorce petition, was not unreasonable. By not allowing the divorce to continue it left Mrs Owens in the difficult position of being ‘locked in’ a marriage which she found unhappy and which she could not end.

Time to stop the blame game?

If there were a possibility for a no fault divorce then it would allow those like Mrs Owens to simply divorce their spouse without blaming each other and without having to be separated for five years, assuming the spouse does not consent to a divorce based on two years separation.

The decision of the Supreme Court is not likely to be a popular one with the people, but unless Parliament changes the law it will continue to be an issue. 

Jenny Sharma, our Head of Family Law has over 15 years of experience in family law and provides a first free interview to all new clients. To book an appointment contact Jenny direct at jenny@jmwilsonsolicitors.com or the offices of JM Wilson Solicitors on 0121 356 4556. 

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What do I need to do if I want to move to another country with my child?

We have just finished a relocation case, successfully acting for a mother who wanted to return to her native Hungary with her young child. The father objected but at a full hearing the judge agreed the move was in the child’s best interests.

In this particular case the child was under 3 years of age and both parents and child lived in UK.  Our Head of Family Law, Jenny Sharma, acted for the mother. Both parties were foreign nationals of differing countries. The father objected to the application and wanted the child to remain in the UK so his relationship with the child could continue.

What needs to be considered to relocate a child to another country?

The Judge required full details of the plan for the child if the child were to relocate with mother to Hungary. Also required was detailed information regarding how the mother expected contact to continue between the father and the child.  The alternative scenario must also be considered, how contact would progress between both parents if the child remained in the UK given mother’s desire to return to Hungary.

The case was complicated by uncertainty regarding the father’s immigration status for remaining in the UK. Expert knowledge from our immigration solicitors came in handy here as we were able to address the judge regarding options in this regard.

After a full hearing the Judge agreed the child’s best interests were served by returning to Hungary with mother and having regular contact with father in both Hungary and the UK.

Jenny Sharma also successfully dealt with this client’s divorce from start to finish against father of the child.

As always she gave a truly personal service to this client at an extremely emotional and uncertain time for her. She was in the UK alone, with no family to support her and thus Jenny was always available to her by phone, email and visits.

Relocating with a child

If you need any help or advice about relocating to another country with a child, no matter how complicated the circumstances, please get in touch. First appointments with Jenny Sharma are free and your enquiry will be completely confidential and handled sensitively.

Image of Sanjeev K Sharma - Director - Immigration & Human Rights Solicitor

Have you been affected by the Windrush Scandal?

There’s been lots in the news recently about the Windrush Scandal and the terrible impact of the Home Office treatment of people from the Commonwealth who are struggling to prove their right to be in the UK.

The scale is only now beginning to be understood, this article from the BBC confirms:


Of the 524,000 people living in the UK in June 2017 who arrived from a Commonwealth country before 1971, 57,000 of them are not UK nationals.  Of this group, 15,000 were from Jamaica, 13,000 from India and 29,000 from elsewhere

There is so much anxiety and uncertainty in the community following the coverage of the windrush cases and we are keen to help those who are worried about their status.

We hold at least two free immigration advice sessions each week, anyone is welcome to come along, and you don’t need an appointment.

All information discussed with us will be strictly confidential.

If you are unsure of your status please come along to one of our advice sessions or get in touch.  We’ve helped other people in similar situations. Through his work with the Refugee and Migrant Centre, Jim Wilson helped Paulette Wilson secure her official leave to remain status.

If you or someone you know has no status in the UK, you should check to see if your parents or grandparents came to the UK before 1971, as you or they may be British and not even know it.

For friendly, confidential advice, please get in touch with our highly experienced immigration team. Or come along to one of our free advice sessions.

Image of Jenny Sharma - Associate Solicitor & Head of Famaily Law

Do I still need to see a solicitor to get divorced?

You may have seen in the news that the process of getting divorced is being modernised enabling couples to make applications for divorce online rather than having to go to court.

Making applications for divorce easier and accessible to everyone is a good thing. However I would still advise a trip to the solicitor’s office for legal advice on your options before embarking on a do-it-yourself application.

The reason for this is that many clients assume they fulfil one of the categories for divorce when actually they don’t. An example is the requirement to be separated for 2 years or more and have the consent of the other party, known as the respondent spouse. They may well have been separated for 2 years but often they are unsure if their estranged spouse will agree to complete the acknowledgment form. They start the divorce and pay the hefty court fee of £550  only to discover along the line that spouse will not sign or acknowledge the papers. More often than not this leads to a dismissal of the original application (incurring a court fee) and a re-issue of another divorce application and a further court fee of £550 for another category such as unreasonable behaviour. Another misconception is 5 years separation. I often hear from clients the assumption that if they have remained separated for over 5 years the divorce is ‘automatic’ and does not require an application as such. Clearly this is wrong.

For this reason I hope the on line scheme will advise all applicants to seek legal advice first before making their divorce application. Such advice does not have to cost the client anything. Free advice clinics and free first appointments are crucial in such cases. There is no obligation to instruct, you see a qualified and experienced solicitor, the advice you receive is free and most important of all it could stop you making mistakes that can cost you a lot of money later on.

For advice and information or to book your free first appointment please contact our Head of Family Law Jenny Sharma. 

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How can I recover money owed to me? 

At some point in our lives we may encounter the word ‘debt’. You may be owed money from an individual or a business. So how can the J M Wilson team help you recover the money you are owed? 

We understand that recovering debt is stressful, especially when you have several other important things that require your attention. We can help defuse awkward situations without you being involved and preserve your relationships with good clients by pursuing the debt in a firm but professional manner. 

Before taking court action, we look to undertake steps to make the individual debtor (person owing the debt) aware that they owe you a debt and provide them with a deadline to repay that debt. Under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 you are entitled to claim back the costs involved with recovering your debts. Under this Act, we are able to recover the costs of using our services at various stages of the collection process in relation to the debt. Furthermore, if your claim is successful, we can help you claim compensation and additional interest on the outstanding debt. You are entitled to claim £40.00 to £100.00 in compensation per invoice and interest at 8% above the Bank of England’s base rate, this is all in addition to the original debt amount and legal costs*. 

At J M Wilson Solicitors our priority is to try and settle the matter first without going to court thus keeping your legal fees to a minimum. Should the debtor refuse to comply with our requests for payment it may then be necessary to take the matter to court. 

Once a County Court Order or High Court Enforcement Order has been obtained against the debtor, there are various options available for you to enforce the debt. 

Some of these options are as follows:

  • Instructing court bailiffs to seize goods at the debtor’s property to be sold for payment of the debt;
  • An attachment of earnings order for the debtor to pay instalments from his or her earnings towards the money owed;
  • A charging order to secure the debt over any property that the debtor may own, and ultimately;
  • Insolvency proceedings to bring a bankruptcy petition against an individual or a winding up petition against a company. 

At J M Wilson Solicitors, we take a strong but professional approach to recovering debt owed to you, whether this is a large or small sum.   

If you feel you may be owed money of any amount, we are happy to talk to you to discuss your options and provide you with professional legal advice. Ask to speak to our specialist advisor, Lisa Shocker from our Civil and Commercial Litigation department on 0121 356 4556 or email your enquiry to enquiry@jmwilsonsolicitors.com.

 *This is subject to whether the debt qualifies as a commercial debt under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998.