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SUPREME COURT TO HEAR APPEAL ON A DECISION CONCERNING THE DEFINITION OF “CHILD” IN FAMILY REUNIFICATION LAW

The Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal from the State over the definition of “child” as referred to in the International Protection Act 2015.

Section 56 the 2015 International Protection Act sets down the procedure for refugees and the holders of subsidiary protection to make an application for family reunification.

The State’s appeal specifically concerns Section 56.9(d) which provides as follows:

“(9) In this section… “member of a family” means in relation to the sponsor-

(d) a child of the sponsor who, on the date of the application under subsection 1 is under the age of 18 years and is not married.”

In 2018, Mr Justice Barrett ruled that non-biological or adopted children are eligible for family reunification. Delivered in May, the High Court decision involved ‘Mr X’ who held subsidiary protection in Ireland and subsequently applied for family reunification for a 14-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl to whom he was the sole guardian of.

After refusing to undertake a DNA test, as requested by the Minister, the application was refused in 2017. Mr X made a second application which was also refused and therefore brought judicial review proceedings with the aim of quashing the Minister’s refusal.

In his decision, Mr Justice Barrett acknowledged that “there is a “wide diversity” of familial structures and the 2015 Act does not exclude non-biological relationships. He further found that a “cookie cutter” definition of children which only recognised biological children, “would doubtless be easier for the State to police…but it is not what the Act provides”. Mr Justice Barrett’s decision acknowledged that it is not always a straightforward task in defining who is a child of someone. He therefore directed the Minister for reconsideration of the matter.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and Ms Justice Mary Irvine have accepted a “leapfrog” appeal by the Minister and State against the High Court decision. This means that the State’s appeal will bypass the Court of Appeal and be directly heard by the Supreme Court.

The judges have emphasised that the definition of “child” in relation to the 2015 Act has the potential to relate to any case regarding non-biological minors who are claimed to be the child of person who has international protection.

The question as to which minors may benefit from family reunification is “a matter of general public importance”, they have underscored.

A hearing date for the appeal has not yet been fixed.

 

IMPORTANT HIGH COURT RULING DEEMS REFUSAL OF FAMILY REUNIFICATION TO SPOUSES/CIVIL PARTNERS OF REFUGEES/SUBSIDIARY PROTECTION HOLDERS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

The recent High Court judgment of Mr Justice Barrett in the joined cases of A. vs The Minister for Justice and Equality and S. and S. vs. The Minister for Justice and Equality has held as unconstitutional the statutory provision excluding family reunification rights to the spouses and civil partners of refugees whose marriage took place after the granting of refugee status.

This is a very favorable development for the holders of refugee status or subsidiary protection who wish to apply for family reunification for their spouse/civil partner but who were not married at the time that they made their application for protection in the State.

These joined cases raised the question, as to whether s. 56(9)(a) of the International Protection Act 2015 is unconstitutional and/or incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

The context of this judgements is that previously, under the Refugee Act 1996, now repealed, refugees were  eligible for family reunification with their spouse whether or not they had been married at the time at which they made their application for protection in the State.

Under the more recent International Protection Act 2015, section 56(9)(a) and (b) provides that holders of refugee status and subsidiary protection are only eligible for family reunification with their spouse where their marriage took place prior to the date of their application for protection in the State.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Barrett declared that Section 56(9)(a) is “repugnant to the provisions of the Constitution” and is therefore “invalid and does not have the force of law.”

The Court found that there was no objective and reasonable justification in this context for a differentiation in treatment between couples married pre-flight to those married post-flight, referring to the European Court of Human Rights case Hode and Abdi v. UK, in which that Court had objected to differentiation in treatment on the basis of the time of marriage.

The Judge went on to state that although it was no longer necessary as the section had already been declared unconstitutional, the court would also have declared that Section 56(9)(a) is incompatible with the State’s obligation under Article 14 ECHR read together with Article 8 ECHR, the latter protecting the rights to family and private life.

The Court in this ruling has notably departed from the judgment of RC or VB v. The Minister for Justice [2019] IEHC 55, which dealt with a similar question.

This judgment has significant implications for refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection who have applied for their spouse or civil partner to be granted family reunification and who have been refused on the basis that their marriage took place after they made their application for protection in the State.

The judgement also opens to the door for refugees who failed to submit an application for family reunification for their spouse or civil partner under the 2015 Act, on the basis that they believed they were not eligible under Section 56 (9) (a).

If you believe this may affect you please contact the office with your questions and we will seek to assist you in the next steps.

 

REDUCTION IN SUCCESSFUL HUMANITARIAN APPLICATIONS

The past two years have seen a steep drop in the rate of successful humanitarian applications in the State. While 2015 saw a 60% rise in the granting of leave to remain over one year (Holland, 2015) the introduction of the International Protection Act, 2015 has seen the rate of humanitarian leave granted plummet to only 163 people in 2017, down from 465 in 2016 and 1,201 in 2015 (Power, 2018).

The Leave to Remain process is explained by the McMahon report (Department of Justice, 2015) as follows;

“The consideration by the Minister for Justice and Equality of whether or not to issue a deportation order in respect of a person who has been deemed not eligible for protection. If the decision is that a deportation order should not issue, leave to remain in the State is granted under Ministerial discretion following consideration of representations submitted, including in relation to the matters set out in section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999.”

Attention was brought to this steep drop in humanitarian leave being granted by TD Catherine Martin of the Green Party, representing Dublin Rathdown. In response to Ms Martin’s parliamentary question, Minister Charlie Flanagan’s answer was as follows (Dáil Debates,23rd January 2018);

“I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the information sought by the Deputy is included in the table.

The number for 2017 is influenced by the introduction of the new International Protection Act which required significant changes to procedures as well as the introduction of the transition provisions of the Act which required a significant number of cases to revert for processing to the International Protection Office.  All of this impacted on the number of cases brought to finality. With the new procedures bedded down the rate of processing is expected to increase significantly in 2018 and beyond.

Year    Leave to Remain

2016    465

2017    163

Total    628”

As stated by Minister Flanagan, it is presumed that the drop in successful humanitarian leave applications  is largely due to the introduction of the International Protection Act, 2015. The International Protection Act, 2015 was designed to streamline and improve the asylum process in the State, which was infamously overburdened and delayed. Minister Flanagan in the above statement, submits that the drop in successful humanitarian applications is due to moving all cases into the simplified asylum process introduced by the Act, and not due to an increased rate of rejection for applicants.

It remains to be seen whether this drop in applications is in fact due to the transitional issues associated with the State’s reform of the asylum and leave to remain process, or if it instead indicative of a continuing issues with delay in spite of the new Act.

Dáil Debates, Asylum Applications Data, 250, 23rd January 2018, [https://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2018-01-23a.505&s=%22leave+to+remain%22#g506.q] [Accessed 6 Feb.2018].

Department of Justice (2015). Working Group to Report to Government Working Group on the Protection Process on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers. [online] Dublin: Department of Justice. Available at: http://justice.ie/en/JELR/Report%20to%20Government%20on%20Improvements%20to%20the%20Protection%20Process,%20including%20Direct%20Provision%20and%20Supports%20to%20Asylum%20Seekers.pdf/Files/Report%20to%20Government%20on%20Improvements%20to%20the%20Protection%20Process,%20including%20Direct%20Provision%20and%20Supports%20to%20Asylum%20Seekers.pdf [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].

Holland, K. (2015). Number of asylum seekers given leave to stay up by 60%. Irish Times. [online] Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/number-of-asylum-seekers-given-leave-to-stay-up-by-60-1.2437131 [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].

Power, J. (2018). Sharp fall in asylum-seekers granted humanitarian reprieve. Irish Times. [online] Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/sharp-fall-in-asylum-seekers-granted-humanitarian-reprieve-1.3379239?mode=amp [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].