In the recent High Court case of R (DC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 399 (Admin), the Claimant challenged the Home Secretary’s decision to refuse to grant British Citizenship due to the Claimant’s failure to satisfy the good character requirement.
The Claimant was born in the Ivory Coast and moved to the UK with his mother at the age of four. After obtaining indefinite leave to remain in the UK, the Claimant submitted his application to register as a British citizen shortly before turning 18. His application for registration was made under section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 (“the Act “). This section provides that a minor (i.e. a person under 18 years old) may become a British citizen by registration at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
“If while a person is a minor an application is made for his registration as a British citizen, the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, cause him to be registered as such a citizen”. In addition to other eligibility requirements being met when applying for registration as a British Citizen, a person has to satisfy a good character condition.
According to the current Home Office Guide regarding registration as a British citizen, “if the child is aged 10 or over they must be of good character”. The guide then further explains “to be of good character, a person should show respect for the rights and freedoms of the United Kingdom, observe its laws and fulfill their rights and duties as a resident of the United Kingdom. Checks will be made on children aged 10 years and over to ensure that this requirement is met”. This rather general definition in fact includes a duty to pay income tax and National Insurance contributions (where applicable), provide details of all criminal convictions committed both within and outside the UK, and disclose any fixed penalty notices (i.e. speeding or parking tickets) which the applicant may have incurred.
The good character requirement is also imposed on adults applying for naturalisation as British citizens by section 6 of the Act.
Section 41A(1) of the Act provides that:
“An application for registration of an adult or young person as a British citizen under section … 3(1) … must not be granted unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the adult or young person is of good character”.
In the case of R (DC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 399 (Admin), the Claimant had a turbulent childhood with the involvement of social services and criminal authorities. The Claimant disclosed his criminal history (which included offences of robbery, handling stolen goods and a reprimand received for possession of cannabis). He had also disclosed the circumstances surrounding his childhood, claiming that these had influenced this criminal behaviour.
However, the Claimant’s application for registration as a British Citizen was refused because the Home Secretary was not satisfied that he was a person of good character. The claimant successfully challenged the decision by submitting a judicial review claim to the High Court.
Although it was accepted by both parties that “…it is for an applicant to show that he satisfies the requirement of good character”, the court ruled that "whilst criminal behaviour may in some cases make the outcome of the good character test inevitable, […] the test involves looking at the whole of an applicant's character and not merely asking whether they have a criminal record". The Court stated that the reasons given by the Home Office to refuse the Claimant’s application “…were insufficient to show that there had been a proper exercise of the defendant’s discretion”.
The High Court's findings in this case confirm that when the Home Office considers whether an applicant meets the good character requirement, they should not look at any potentially negative factors in isolation but should take all other personal circumstances of the applicant into account.
Finally, it is important to note that if you are considering applying to register as a British Citizen or become British by naturalization, you should always seek professional advice if you are uncertain about what is covered by the good character requirement, or if you have doubts that your particular personal factors might have a negative affect on your application.
Should you require any further information in relation to the above please do not hesitate to contact us.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.