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SUPREME COURT CLARIFIES “DURABLE PARTNER” FOR PURPOSES OF EU TREATY RIGHTS APPLICATIONS

The Supreme Court delivered a significant judgement on the 2nd June 2020 in the case of Pervaiz v Minister for Justice [2020] IESC 27. The Supreme Court reviewed the decision of the High Court, with respect to an application for a EU Fam residence card by the non EU citizen partner of a Spanish citizen pursuant to the EU Free Movement of Persons (Regulations) 2015. The Supreme Court overturned the High Court ruling that the 2015 Regulations do not correctly transpose the Citizens Directive by reason of the absence of specific and detailed criteria with regards to the definition of “durable partner”. The Supreme Court also disagreed with the finding of the High Court, which took issue with the fact that the relevant parts of the Regulation simply repeat the words of the Directive itself. The Supreme Court also disagreed that the Minister had applied an unlawful requirement, requiring a period of two years cohabitation in order to meet the definition of a partner for the purposes of the regulations.

A preliminary issue in the proceedings was whether there was an issue that the proceedings were taken in the name of the Non-EU citizen applicant only, without his EU citizen partner being a party to the proceedings. The Supreme Court followed the findings of a number of rulings in the High Court that the applicant had the required standing to issue the proceedings in his own name. The Court also noted that the EU citizen in this case had supported the proceedings on affidavit.

The judgement provides a legal analysis of the differing rights of persons who can apply under the Regulations as “qualifying family members”, such as spouses and direct ascendants and descendants as opposed to “permitted family members” such as partners. The Court highlighted the varying rights of such applicants, with “permitted family members” only having a right to have their application “facilitated” and a “detailed examination of their personal circumstances” undertaken.

The Court held that the definition of “partner” in the 2015 Regulations denotes a person with whom the Union citizen has a connection which is personal in nature, and which is akin to, or broadly akin to, marriage.

With relation to the duration of the relationship and its relevance the Court found:

Thus, a durable partnership will tend to be one of some duration, but that is not to say that the duration of the relationship is, in itself, a defining feature. The length of a relationship will be an important, and sometimes compelling, index of the degree of commitment between the couple, but it is perfectly possible for a committed long-term, what is often called a “serious” relationship, to exist between persons who have known one and other for a short time.

With regards to whether cohabitation is required the Court found:

It would seem to me that cohabitation is in most cases a useful yardstick by which the durability of a relationship is assessed and by which it is possible to test whether persons are genuinely in a committed partnership

With regards to the argument that there is a lack of clarity as to what is required or what conditions need to be met with regards to the duration of a relationship and the period of cohabitation in order to be eligible to apply for a residence card as the partner of the EU citizen the Court disagreed and held: There is, in my view, no lack of clarity in the 2015 Regulations and in the other resources so that an applicant may readily understand the proofs to be met.

The Court found that the Minister did not impose an unlawful requirement of two years prior cohabitation, the Court accepted the Minister’s case that the two year cohabitation is not applied as a strict requirement and is used flexibly. The Court found that any imposition of a two year strict requirement could not be imposed without amending the legislation. The Court did not accept the argument that the two year cohabitation requirement was mandatory in nature.

It is beneficial to applications to now have confirmation that the Minister does not impose a mandatory two year cohabitation requirement and that the Minister should assess each case on its own particular facts.

Please contact the office if you wish to make an EU Fam Residence card application for yourself or your family member.

The full judgement will be published shortly.

PERVAIS V MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY [2019] IEHC 403 AND THE DEFINITION OF A ‘DURABLE RELATIONSHIP’

The High Court has delivered judgement in a case that may have a significant impact on applications from the partners of EU citizens under Directive 2004/38/EC and the European Communities (Free Movement of Persons) Regulations 2015,

Partners can fall within the category of “permitted family member”.

In the Directive beneficiaries in this category are described in Article 3(2) as the partner “with whom the Union citizen has a durable relationship, duly attested”.

This definition can be found at reg.5(1)(b) of the Regulations.

In this case the Court asked the question: What is a “durable relationship”?

The Court notes:
The phrase is not defined in the Citizens’ Rights Directive, most likely so as to allow the various member states to proceed by reference to concepts of relationships/durability that suit their respective mores and traditions.

The Court was critical that the Minister has not tried to define or elaborate on this definition by way of Ministerial guidance. The Court found that an untenable situation has arisen whereby no-one (applicants, officials or indeed the court) quite knows what a “durable relationship” is.

It has emerged in the proceedings that a “durable relationship”, as conceived by the Minister involves a ‘sort of’ two-year benchmark, however a lower timeframe can be applied if that is considered to be merited on the evidence in any one case… though quite when the evidence will be (or is) considered to justify the application of a lower timeframe and how a particular lower timeframe is settled upon is entirely unclear.

The Judge went through the EU1A application form and guidance note in some detail (this is the application form on which a permitted family member makes an application for an EU residence card). The Court noted that as the concept of “durable relationship” is not defined, asking someone to provide “Evidence of a durable relationship” is largely, if not completely, meaningless.

The Court also held that the Minister had allowed a confusion to arise between the concept of a durable and attested relationship and the conception of “cohabitation”.

The Court found in this respect:
“… it seems to the court that the concept of “cohabitation” has skewed the Minister’s approach to such applications as are made under reg.5, not least in the suggestion that “tenancy agreements, utility bills” would be suitable evidence of “cohabitation”. Perhaps they would, but reg.5(1)(a) refers to a “durable relationship”, not a relationship of cohabitation.”

The Court outlined a number of scenarios where a durable and attested relationship might exist both with or without cohabitation and made a number of remarks as to the approach of the Minister to require evidence and documents of cohabitation.

The Court answered a number of questions in concluding its judgment, most notably:

Q2. (i) Has Directive 2004/38/EU been adequately transposed into domestic law by the respondents?
(ii) Have the respondents infringed the principle of effectiveness by failing to provide any legislative definition of the concept of “durable relationship duly attested” or any legislative framework/guidance for the test to be applied and the proofs required?

No to (i).

Yes to (ii), save that the court considers that a definition could also be provided in non-legislative guidance (which to this time this has not occurred). The manner of transposition yields the various legal issues described herein and the principle of effectiveness has been breached.

It will be interesting to see how the Minister deals with the Court’s judgement in this matter. It appears that in the Court’s view it would be open to the Minister to deal with this issue by way of statute/ amendment to the regulations or alternatively by way of Ministerial guidelines.

We hope that in light of this judgement the Minister goes on to provide a clear definition of a “durable relationship, duly attested” so that there is more clarity for EU citizens and their partners as to their eligibility for an EU fam residence card.

The full judgment can be read here.