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SUPREME COURT DELIVER JUDGEMENT IN P -v- MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY [2019] IESC 47

An important judgement has been delivered by the Supreme Court in the case of P -v- Minister for Justice and Equality [2019] IESC 47.

The Courts highlighted that this is a difficult and novel area of law. O’Donnell J in his judgement noted: “this is a very difficult area, with competing considerations, an absence of legislative structure, and little by way of guidance from the decided cases.” 

The applicant in his proceedings contended that the reasons provided to him in the refusal of his application for naturalisation remained insufficient and that it ought to have been possible for the Minister to offer to provide “the gist” of the information relied upon.

The applicant contended that if necessary, a special advocate procedure ought to have been adopted.

There is a special advocate procedure in place in other common law countries, most notably the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, which are now the subject of detailed procedures providing for the appointment of a special advocate, and what are described as closed material hearings.

Two judgements were issued in this matter, by Mr Justice Clarke C.J. and Mr Justice O’Donnell which reach the same conclusion on slightly different legal bases.

Clarke C.J.’s judgement found that it is possible to put in place an “enhanced process” by which an “independent assessment” could be made, “as to whether any version of the information could be provided in a way which would not affect State interests to the extent that disclosure should not be required at all”.

Clarke C.J. also noted that such a process of advice from an independent person would also enhance confidence in any decision made.
O’Donnell J’s discusses “special advocate procedures” stating:

“During these procedures decision-makers, and sometimes courts will consider material and hear evidence which is not provided to the individual or the advocate of his or her choice, but where the individual is represented by a special advocate with security clearance who cannot, however, communicate the substance of the information disclosed to the individual or seek instructions upon it.”

There is currently no provision for such procedures in Ireland.

In his judgment O’Donnell J found that the case of Mallak v. Minister for Justice [2012] IESC 59, [2012] 3 I.R. 297, a case which strongly affirmed the “duty to give reasons” did not govern this particular case.

O Donnell J held that the issue in this particular case was:

“(i) what by way of fair procedures is required where it is said that the basis for the refusal of citizenship is contained in information which cannot be disclosed by way of reasons for the decision, and
(ii) if it is possible to justify the refusal to give reasons, what is required by way of fair procedures to constitute such justification, so that a decision which did not provide reasons, would nevertheless be valid and not liable to be quashed?”

O’ Donnell J found that if national security concerns are properly raised, it cannot be the case that merely by seeking a decision, an interested party can demand access to information, the confidentiality of which is deemed essential to national security. The judge also highlighted, however that it must be recognised that fundamental issues are involved in this case- that a person can be the subject of an adverse decision on a matter of significance to them based upon materials not disclosed to them, and where the reasons for that decision are similarly withheld from them.

The judge referred to a case of the UK courts, R. (Haralambous) v. St. Alban’s Crown Court [2018] UKSC 1, [2018] A.C. 236, in that case, the restrictions on providing the gist of material occurred after there had been a limited closed materials procedure in which the information concerned was subject to some scrutiny independent of the state.

We welcome the Supreme Court’s determination in this case and hope that an “enhanced process” or “special advocate procedure” is introduced by the Minister as soon as possible. An application for citizenship is a hugely important matter for an applicant, who has made their home in Ireland. A fair and balanced system with an element of independence is to be welcomed and will assist both the applicant and the Minister to deal with these particular matters.

The full judgement of O’Donnell J. can be read here and the full judgement of Clarke C.J. can be read here.

RE-ENTRY VISAS NOW ABOLISHED FOR ADULT HOLDERS OF IRP/GNIB CARDS

As of 13th May 2019, visa required nationals who hold a valid IRP/GNIB card will no longer need a re-entry visa to travel back to Ireland. An individual will only need to be able to show their IRP/GNIB card and their passport or travel document to airline staff and immigration authorities as evidence of their right to travel to the State.

With this change Ireland has come into line with other EU Member States who rely similarly on residence permits rather than requiring re-entry visas from those holding immigration permission in the State.

This change has been long requested and will benefit an estimated 40,000 persons each year, taking away the need for them to pay a re-entry visa fee and submit their passport or travel document to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service while awaiting the outcome of their application, which could take in and around five weeks to process.

It is important to note however that as minors under the age of 16 years are not issued with an IRP/GNIB card their parent or guardian will still need to apply for a re-entry visa for them to allow them to travel to and from the State. While all other visas must be applied for from outside of the State, an application for a re-entry visa for a minor can be made from within the State.

Further worth highlighting are the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service’s instructions that in light of the delays in securing an appointment to register immigration permission at the Burgh Quay Registration Office, if living in Dublin, and the further two week period it may take to receive one’s IRP card, it is advised that visa required nationals intending to travel to and from the State in the first four months of their stay should apply for a multiple entry visa, which will allow for them to undertake travel in the interim period before their IRP card is issued to them.

For further information on these changes and their implications please see the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service website here.

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].