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.