Mr. Hamoud married two women in Lebanon; S.A.A. in 1975 and S.A.H. in 1988. Polygamous marriage is permissable under Lebanese law. In 2000, Hamoud was granted asylum in Ireland (he obtained citizenship in 2002). He wanted his wives and their children to join him in Ireland for the purposes of family reunification. S.A.H. and her children were granted visas for this purpose. S.A.A. remains in Beiruit. The High Court was asked to consider whether Hamoud’s first marriage was valid for the purposes of s.29 of the Family Law Act 1995 (note that the court was not asked to consider the refugee’s right to family reunification as such, on which see Cooke J. in Hamza in November ). The problem was that, at its inception in 1975, that marriage was contracted under laws which – in a significant deviation from the Irish norm – permitted the husband to take another spouse in the future. It was a potentially polygamous marriage, even if it did not become actually polygamous until 1988. Although it is not always clear from the judgment, it appears that Dunne J. does not deal with the question of whether Hamoud’s first marriage was valid at its inception, but whether, as an actually polygamous marriage, it remained valid and subsisting for the purposes of Irish law in 2010. Thus this judgment does not conflict with the efforts of Cooke J. to confirm in Hamza that, provided no second marriage takes place, a potentially polygamous marriage can be recognised at Irish law.
In November, Mr. Justice Cooke considered two family reunification cases in the High Court which shed some light on the status under Irish law of Muslim marriages contracted abroad. The cases are Hamza & Another v. MJELR  IEHC 427 and Hassan & Another v. MJELR  IEHC 426. Dr. Hamza and Mr. Hassan had obtained refugee status in Ireland, and sought to have their wives join them and reside in Ireland, under s. 18 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended). Both applications had been refused because of doubts concerning the validity of the applicants’ marriages. Dr. Hamza’s application was refused because his Sudanese marriage was considered to be a proxy marriage (because the bride was not present at the ceremony but was represented by a male relative). Mr. Hassan’s application was refused because it was considered that his Somali marriage, as a religious marriage contracted abroad, could not be recognised as valid at Irish law. The High Court has now confirmed that both marriages could in principle have been treated as valid for family reunification purposes – a question quite apart from that of the applicants’ marital status at private international law.
Last month, a French-born convert to Islam (pictured left with Lies Hebbadj) was fined 22 euros in Nantes for driving while wearing a niqab on the basis that it was an impediment to her safe driving. This story has been elevated to the point where it threatens to prompt a change in French nationality law. Brice Hortefeux, the Minister of the Interior, called for her husband Lies Hebbadj to be stripped of his French nationality, complaining that Mr. Hebbadj was living in France with four wives and their children and defrauding the French state by having his wives claim welfare payments as lone parents. The Associated Press here raises the question of men ‘profiting’ from the welfare system by claiming benefits for multiple wives and children. It cites the experience of the organisation Nouveaux Pas which assists women who approach it seeking to leave polygamous marriages.
The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the High Court will soon rule on the validity of an Irish citizen’s marriage under s. 29 of the Family Law Act, 1995. The man is Lebanese. He married two women in Lebanon, where polygamous marriage is permitted. He entered Ireland with his second wife and claimed asylum. His first wife arrived in Ireland much later. The man has children with both and apparently lives with both in Ireland. Seven years ago the Department of Justice had refused to grant a visa to the man’s first wife. However, after the man challenged the refusal in the High Court, the Department agreed to quash its initial refusal. As part of this settlement, the man is required to seek a s. 29 ruling. The Times reports that ‘[t]he state and the wives are all represented in the case. The residency rights of both spouses will depend on the decision. A number of similar cases are awaiting the outcome.’ The case looks to be (or is very similar to) that of Hussein Ali Hamoud. The Irish Independent reported on his case in 2003 here. There is been remarkably little media discussion of the case today. Marian Finucane discussed the issue, to some extent, on RTE Radio 1 yesterday. The podcast is here (from minute 21). The Examiner also published a short opinion piece.