The Supreme Court have made an important judgement relating to the constitutionality of Section 19 of the Irish Naturalisation and Citizenship Act 1956, which governs revocation of citizenship obtained through Naturalisation.
Section 19 provides that once the Minister issues a proposal to revoke a certificate of naturalisation to the person concerned, the person can either accept the proposal or can seek an inquiry into the matter before a Committee of Inquiry. The Committee of Inquiry will comprise of a number of persons, one of whom has judicial experience.
The Committee will review the matter and make a report to the Minister. The Minister is not bound by the report but will take it into consideration in making a final decision as to whether to revoke a certificate of naturalisation. There is no appeal in the legislation in respect of a decision to revoke a certificate of naturalisation.
Mr Ali Damache, the applicant in the case has been successful in his appeal to the Supreme Court having lost his case in the High Court. Mr Damache brought proceedings to challenge a proposal to revoke his certificate of naturalisation. A preliminary point in the proceedings was that Mr Damache was premature in bringing his case, as he had only received a proposal to revoke rather than any decision to revoke. The Court found that it is generally the case that it is the Courts role to review decision made, after all possible avenues have been exhausted, however as Mr Damache’s case went to the heart of the constitutionality of Section 19 the Courts were able to decide upon the matter.
The main arguments raise by the applicant in the proceedings in summary:
- The revocation of Irish citizenship should be a matter dealt with by the Courts and not the Minister for Justice due to the far reaching impact for persons whose naturalisation is to be revoked;
- The procedure as outlined in Section 19 lacked the robust fair procedures required by law for a process which can have such a huge and far reaching impact on a person and therefore amounted to a breach of natural justice.
- That Section 19 of the Irish Naturalisation and Citizenship Act 1956 was repugnant to the Constitution of Ireland;
In relation to the first point the Supreme Court held that the revocation of a certificate of naturalisation is not the administration of justice but is the exercise of an executive function. It was therefore found that the revocation of citizenship is not a matter over which the Courts must have jurisdiction. The Court noted that although there was limited evidence before the Court of the procedure in other jurisdictions, it was found to be common that the revocation of citizenship in other countries could be a matter for the executive and not the courts.
In relation to the second argument the Court held that due to the severe and drastic consequences a revocation of a certificate of naturalisation may have for a person, a high standard of natural justice must apply to any such process. The Court concluded that there was no reason to find that the Committee was anything but independent in nature and there was no breach of naturalisation justice on the basis of lack of independence.
However the Court found that due to the severity of the possible outcome of a person the process provided for by section 19, does not provide the procedural safeguards required to meet the high standards of natural justice applicable to a person facing such severe consequences.
The Court concluded:
…an individual facing the prospect of revocation of a Certificate of Naturalisation must be entitled to a process which provides minimum procedural safeguards including an independent and impartial decision-maker. In the circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that s.19 is does not meet the high standards of natural justice required and is therefore invalid having regard to the provisions of the Constitution.