Tag Archive for: Application for Naturalisation

UPCOMING CITIZENSHIP CEREMONIES

UPCOMING CITIZENSHIP CEREMONIES

The Department of Justice has announced that the next citizenship ceremonies will take place on Monday the 5th of December and Tuesday the 6th of December 2022. The ceremonies are being hosted at the Killarney Convention Centre in Killarney, Co. Kerry.

Invitations will issue in due course to eligible candidates. Candidates are required to produce identity documents, for example a valid passport, on the day of the ceremony for verification purposes. At the ceremony candidates take an oath of fidelity to the nation, receive their certificate of naturalisation and become Irish citizens.

Berkeley Solicitors wishes to congratulate our clients who have recently received their Irish Citizenship, and all who will be attending these ceremonies.

MINISTER HELEN MCENTEE ANSWERS PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION REGARDING PROCESSING TIMES FOR NATURALISATION APPLICATIONS IN THE STATE

Minister Helen McEntee recently answered a parliamentary question in relation to the processing times for naturalization applications in the State.

Deputy Bernard J Durkan asked the Minister to confirm the number of naturalization applications that had been received by the Department of Justice during the period of 1st January 2022 to 31st March 2022, how many of those had been granted, and the expected processing time for those that had yet to be determined.

The Minister acknowledged the importance that naturalization applications hold for applicants, and highlighted that the Department of Justice continued to accept applications throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister McEntee confirmed that 3,706 naturalization applications were received by the Department of Justice between 1st January 2022 and the 31st March 2022, three of which have been approved. She continued to clarify that a further 24 applications from this cohort are “in the final stage of processing”.

Interestingly, Minister McEntee confirmed that the average processing time for naturalization applications is currently 19 months and highlighted that this had been reduced from a previously stated processing time of 23 months. While the reduction of the processing time is a welcome update, it remains far above the pre-pandemic average processing time of 12 months.

Minister McEntee portrayed an awareness of the need for a further reduction in the length of time people are currently being made to wait to have their citizenship applications determined. She highlighted that the Department of Justice is introducing new measures to try and speed up the process, including the assignment of new staff and a number of digitization measures. It remains to be seen if these measures will indeed aide the continued reduction of processing times of naturalization applications in the State.

If you or your family require advice on your eligibility for naturalisation or in respect of your ongoing naturalisation application, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

The full parliamentary question and answer can be read here.

NATURALISATION APPLICATIONS AND THE “SIX WEEK RULE”

Berkeley Solicitors has recently received confirmation from the Department of Justice that the day a person leaves and returns to the State are not considered a day absent from the State when calculating absences for naturalisation applications.

For standard naturalisation applications a person is required to have five years reckonable residency in the last nine years. The period of five years can be made up as a period of four years within the last eight, with one-year continuous residence in the year prior to application

For those applying as the spouse or civil partner of an Irish citizen, you are required to have a period of three years in the last five years. This can be made up as two years within the last four, with one-year continuous residence in the year prior to the application.

It is the Minister’s current policy that declared refugees can apply for naturalisation after three years’ lawful residence in the State.

All Applicants are required to have one year’s continuous residency in the State in the year immediately preceding their application.

There is a question on the Form 8 naturalisation application, question 5.6, which asks if an Applicant has been absent from the state for more than six weeks in any of the last five years and to declare same if relevant.

It became apparent in recent years that the Minister’s policy was to deem an application ineligible on the basis of their absences from the State which became known as the “six week rule”. This meant that absences of over six weeks in the first four years or two years of reckonable residence would be deducted from a person’s overall reckonable residence and that an application would be deemed ineligible if a person was absent from the State for over six weeks in the year immediately preceding their application.

Following the Court of Appeal judgement findings in Jones v Minister for Justice and Equality, which affirmed the lawfulness of the Minister’s policy regarding the “six-week rule”, many clients have contacted our office seeking clarity regarding their eligibility where they have been absent for more than six weeks in the previous five years.

The court of appeal clarified that the Minister is entitled to operate a policy regarding absences however to date there is no published policy on the six-week rule or its operation.

It is positive to receive confirmation that days of travel are not considered a day absent in the calculation of a person’s residency and has provided much welcomed clarity in this area.

We would submit that a published policy should be accessible to all those who wish to submit applications for naturalisation as there remains no guidance whether absences for work are permissible and there is no clarity on whether the calculation should be based on a calendar year or a rolling year.

If you or a family member have any queries regarding the naturalisation process or your own application for naturalisation, please do not hesitate to contact us

ANOTHER IMPORTANT JUDGEMENT ON GOOD CHARACTER ASSESSMENTS IN NATURALISATION APPLICATIONS

The Court of Appeal have delivered another important judgement relating to the Minister’s assessement of “good character” for the purposes of applications for naturalisation in the case of MNN v Minister for Justice and Equality [2020] IECA 187.

Along with the recent judgement of Talla v Minister for Justice and Equality [2020] IECA 135 this judgement is an important ruling with respect to the Minister’s obligations when conducting assessments of “good character” and could see a shift in the way in which applications for naturalisation are to be considered by the Minister.

The applicant in this case applied for naturalisation in October 2013 and received a refusal of his application based on good character grounds.

The applicant declared in his application that he had two convictions for road traffic matters, which occurred in December 2012, namely failure to display road tax and failure to display insurance disc. The applicant had only become aware of these matters in 2013 as the fixed penalty notices and summons had been sent to his former address with his spouse, which he never received.

In early 2016, the Minister sought further information from the applicant in relation to an incident in which he was described in the report as a “witness”, where Section 12 of the Child Care Act had been invoked following a domestic altercation.

The applicant provided a thorough explanation for this matter and had instructed legal representation in September 2017 to make further representations to the Minister. The court described the applicant as providing a “frank and forthright explanation”.

Some four and half years after applying for naturalisation, the applicant’s application was refused in February 2018. The Court examined in detail the “submission” upon which the decision to refuse was based. The Court noted that it was unclear if the decision maker had access to all the relevant information and context, including the applicant’s detailed representations in relation to the incidents.

The Court highlighted that the Minister’s absolute discretion in determining applications for naturalisation does not “relieve the Minister of the obligation to operate within the rule of law”.

The Court goes on to outline a set of principles to be applied in assessing good character and notes that even though naturalisation is a privilege, applicants do not enjoy “inferior legal protection”. Good character is to be assessed “against reasonable standards of civic responsibility” and the connection between character and criminality can only be established when the Minister has all information including “context and mitigating factors”. The Minister must undertake a comprehensive assessment of the person and “all aspects of character”, and “Whether the appellant is a model citizen plays no part in what the Minister has to determine…”.

The Court set out the test for assessing applicants who may have a criminal offence in their past:

“Criminal convictions are relevant to the assessment of character, but they are not, in themselves, determinative thereof. Thus, it is not sufficient for the Minister to have regard only to the fact that an applicant for naturalisation has criminal convictions. What is required is a consideration of ‘all aspects of an applicant’s character’ in deciding whether he or she meets the relevant requirement for the purpose of s. 15 of the Act. The correct test is worth repeating. It is not whether an applicant has previous criminal convictions- it is wider in scope than that. An applicant may be assessed as a person of good character even if he has criminal convictions, perhaps, all the more, so if the convictions in question relate to strict liability offence. Such offences do not depend of personal moral culpability. As noted by Lang J. in Hiri, a person may still be of good character notwithstanding a criminal conviction and a person may not be of good character despite having a clean criminal record.”

The Court reiterates that the Minister is entitled to take into consideration “allegations” or matters that do not result in criminal proceedings, however they should be taken into assessment with “all relevant information”.

The Minster in this case was found to have considered the “alleged incidents” as more than alleged.

The Court emphasised that where the Minister relies on traffic offences to determine that the appellant is not of good character, he must have an understanding of the nature of the offences. Also, the understanding that leads the Minister to conclude that the applicant is not of good character must be stated in reasons that can be understood by the Applicant.

The Court was not satisfied that the Minister had before him all the relevant information to enable him to form a reasonable view as to whether the appellant was of good character. The Court emphasised that there was nothing on the face of the decision to suggest the entire file, including the applicant’s submissions regarding the incidents, were considered by the decision maker.

The decision was therefore held to be unlawful as it was not evident that the Minister had considered the applicant’s submissions in reaching the conclusion that the applicant was not of good character.

The decision making process in itself, was found by the Court to be in breach of natural and constitutional justice.

This is a very significant judgement from the Court of Appeal, because it raises questions regarding the legality of many decisions of the Minister in refusing naturalisation on good character grounds.

If you have been refused naturalisation on the grounds of good character please contact the office to discuss your case with us.

COURT OF APPEAL DECISION ON REFUSAL OF NATURALISATION BASED ON GOOD CHARACTER ARISING FROM ROAD TRAFFIC OFFENCES

The Court of Appeal delivered its judgement on 12th May 2020 in the case of Talla v Minister for Justice and Equality [2020] IECA 135.

The case concerned a Kosovan man whose application for naturalisation was refused on the basis that he was not of “good character” due to having previously committed road traffic offences in the State. He had travelled to Ireland in 2002 when he was 14 years old, and has two Irish born children.

The traffic offences in question related to a routine speeding offence in 2011, to which he was fined €380 and a conviction for driving his brother’s car without the appropriate insurance in the same year.  It was noted that the Appellant believed he was covered by insurance and an insurance company had said he was a named driver on his brother’s policy but was not insured on the particular car he was driving. He subsequently paid a fine of €400 for this offence.

In 2016, other charges including failure to produce were struck out and an insurance charge was brought to court in September 2017. It is noted that the Appellant pleaded guilty to this offence but that the District Judge accepted the explanation and plea of mitigation that the insurance policy had not been renewed as a result of a genuine oversight on the part of the Appellant’s brother.

The Appellant applied for naturalisation in 2013 and answered “no” to a series of questions concerning offences and convictions.

When these incidents were brought to the attention of the Appellant and his solicitors in 2014 and in 2017, during the process of his application, explanations were provided to INIS for each of these incidents in considerable detail.

In February 2018, the Minister refused the application for naturalisation. The decision had described the Applicant as having “a history of non-compliance with the laws of the State”.

Delivering the judgement, Mr Justice Haughton, said that that the submission prepared for the Minister which recommended the refusal of his application, failed to refer to any of the explanatory information provided by the Applicant’s solicitors.

The three judge Court of Appeal found that it was not evident that those who had prepared the submission which included an An Garda Siochana report, had considered the exculpatory information presented to INIS.

The Court of Appeal confirmed that the Minister is entitled to take into account a series of infringements of the Road Traffic Acts in assessing whether an applicant is of “good character”.

However, the Court clarified that:

“In the instant case it is “the nature of the offences” that led the Minister to refuse the
application on the grounds that the appellant was not of “good character”. As noted by Faherty J [Zaigham v MJELR [2017] IEHC 630] not all road traffic offences will debar an application. Minor offences do not necessarily reflect on a person’s “good character”, particularly if balanced against other matters in their favour. It is therefore the case that where there are road traffic offences it is the nature of those offences and the circumstances in which they were committed that will demand more attention”. [Para 36]

The Court confirmed that the Minister is entitled to take into consideration “spent convictions” (7 years since effective date of conviction) in considering “good character” for the purpose of assessing naturalisation applications.

Yet, the Court of Appeal reaffirmed in paragraph 37 that:

“While criminal convictions, or the commission of offences, are relevant to
this enquiry and assessment, it is wider in scope than that, and the outline facts and any mitigating circumstances, the period of time that has elapsed since the last conviction, and other factors that may be relevant to character, must all be taken into consideration”.

The Court went on to consider the importance of the Minister providing reasons for a refusal, on the basis of a history of road traffic offences, where the applicant may re-apply in the future. Further, where the Minister relies on the nature of road traffic offences to determine that an applicant is not of good character, the understanding of the nature of offences which led to this conclusion needs to be expressed in reasons that can be understood by the applicant.

The Court of Appeal ultimately overturned the decision of the High Court and found that it could not be concluded that the decision maker- the Director General on behalf of the Minister- had considered all relevant material on file.

The judges opined that a number of concerns arose from the fact that there was no mention in the submission to the Minister of any of the explanations given by the Applicant or his solicitors. The Court found this surprising as they considered them to contain facts of central importance and the lack of such mitigating information therefore created an imbalance.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the Minister had not considered and weighed all relevant considerations before deciding to refuse a certificate for naturalisation and ordered that the decision be quashed and the application be reconsidered in accordance with this judgement.

We at Berkeley Solicitors welcome this very encouraging clarification surrounding road traffic offences and the requirement to be of “good character” in accordance with Section 15A(1) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956.

In our experience road traffic offences are one of the most common reasons for refusal of naturalisation applications, based on good character grounds.

It is very clear from the judgement that the deciding officer’s submission to the Minister regarding such offences must also include a summary of mitigating factors, or otherwise the Minister’s conclusion on good character is not reached in a fair and balanced manner.

We would submit that the time that has elapsed since the minor road traffic offences and the fact an applicant has not had any further offences are mitigating factors that should always be brought to the Minister’s attention, and minor traffic offences should not be held against Applicants indefinitely.

Our office is experienced in the submission of applications for naturalisation as an Irish citizen and do our best to assist our clients through this lengthy application process. If you or your family are impacted by these issues or similar issues, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss this in more detail.

The judgement can be read in full here.