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SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT ON FAMILY REUNIFICATION FOR NATURALISED REFUGEES: M.A.M. (SOMALIA) AND K.N. (UZBEKISTAN)

Berkeley Solicitors are delighted to congratulate our client who won her appeal in the Supreme Court today in the joint test cases of – M.A.M. (Somalia) v The Minister for Justice and Equality and K.N. (Uzbekistan) and Others v The Minister for Justice. The judgement of Mr Justice McMenamin was a unanimous judgement of the Supreme Court in favour of the appellants, and was delivered on the 19th June 2020.

The judgement is very significant as it affects not just the individual families taking the appeal, but approximately fifty other applicant families who have cases pending in the High Court holding list awaiting the outcome of this Supreme Court appeal.

The case arose from a challenge to the decision of the Minister for Justice to refuse family reunification to our client’s family members under The Refugee Act of 1996 (as amended). The sole reason for the Minister’s decision was the fact that our client had become an Irish citizen by naturalisation prior to her family reunification application, and the Minister held she was not therefore entitled to the family reunification rights as a refugee.

During the course of the proceedings, the Minister accepted that the Department of Justice had previously interpreted Section 18 of the 1996 Refugee Act to permit naturalised refugees to apply for family reunification for their family members, and this favourable scheme was in operation between 2010 and October 2017. The Minister also accepted that in October 2017, following new legal advices, the Minister commenced a new procedure to preclude naturalised refugees from applying for family reunification. This change in policy resulted in many naturalised refugees being refused family reunification during the period of 2017 and 2018, prior to the commencement of the family reunification provisions of the International Protection Act 2015.

The Minister argued that in order for a person to have rights to family reunification under Section 18 of the 1996 Act, not only must they hold a declaration confirming their refugee status, but they must also be a refugee in line with the definition of a refugee in Section 2 of the Act. As this definition requires a person to be outside their “country of nationality” to be a refugee, the Minister’s argument was that a refugee who becomes naturalised is no longer deemed to be a refugee as they are not outside their country of nationality, when that country becomes Ireland.

The Supreme Court disregarded this argument, holding that there was nothing to suggest in the Act that the appellants’ “country of nationality” had altered from Somalia and Uzbekistan to Ireland, as their well-founded fear of persecution remained  in those countries and not Ireland.

The Supreme Court carried out a detailed statutory interpretation exercise in respect of the 1996 Refugee Act, and highlighted the absurdities that would follow if a refugee with a declaration of refugee status would also have to be “deemed” to be a refugee in order to avail of the important rights of family reunification.

The court stated:

“The consequence of the interpretation urged by the Minister would be to create substantial legislative uncertainty when the purpose of the 1996 Act was to achieve clarity. The case advanced would run counter to the legislative aim of the Oireachtas, which was, by a carefully devised procedure defined in the Act, to identify one definitive “mark” of recognition to persons who were entitled to refugee status in this State, which, in turn, would grant them benefits and entitlements.”

In conclusion, the Supreme Court held as follows:

“This judgement concludes that the fact that the appellants became citizens did not deprive them of the right to apply for family reunification under s.18 of the 1996 Act.”

This is a very welcome decision from the Supreme Court, because it gives certainty to the definition of a refugee and the interpretation of the family reunification provisions in the 1996 Refugee Act.

In effect it means that all the decisions issued by the Minister during the period of 2017 and 2018 to refuse applications for family reunification under the 1996 Act because the sponsors were refugees who had naturalised as Irish citizens, were unlawful.

It also means that the decisions granting family reunification to naturalised refugees during the 2010 to 2017 period are lawful, bringing legal certainty to the status of countless families now settled in Ireland.

We would expect that Minister will now agree to withdraw these previous unlawful decisions refusing family reunification, and reconsider and re determine the applications in line with the Supreme Court’s judgement.

We welcome the clarity that this judgement brings and look forward to working with our clients to have the unlawful family reunification decisions withdrawn and re determined.

The full judgement can be read here.

We are happy to advise further to anyone believes they are affected by this judgement.

Berkeley Solicitors

HIGH COURT DECISION ON 12 MONTH TIME LIMIT FOR REFUGEE FAMILY REUNIFICATION

On 29th October 2019,    Mr Justice Humphreys delivered his judgement in I.I (Nigeria) v Minister for Justice and Equality in relation to the 12-month time limit to apply for Family Reunification under Section 56(8) of the International Protection Act 2015. The high court judge found in favour of the State.

The case concerned an Applicant who, in October 2011, was left in the care of her maternal Aunt. The Child and Family Agency acted on the Applicant’s behalf at material times thereafter. The Applicant was subsequently granted refugee status on 25th September 2014 and applied for family reunification in respect of her mother, in July 2018. This was refused on 3rd December 2018.

The Applicant sought review of the refusal and a declaration that the 2015 International Protection Act is contrary to the Constitution, ECHR and EU law.

The Applicant argued they were unable to make a family reunification application in the four years previous as the whereabouts of her mother was unknown.

The judge held that the genuine inability of the Applicant’s Aunt or Child and Family Agency to contact the Applicant’s mother or family members within the statutory time limit of 12 months, from date refugee status was granted, for applications for family reunification was not satisfied.

The judgement highlighted that no application had been made under the non-EEA policy document nor had visas for the Applicant’s family been made- something which Judge Humphreys suggested might have achieved family reunification.

The Applicant argued that she carried the right to apply under s. 18(3) of the Refugee Act 1996 without any time limit and this right was carried forward beyond the repeal of the Refugee Act 1996 act in 2015.

Mr Justice Humphrey’s vehemently opposed this argument, stating that such an interpretation:

Para 13. “would deprive the concept of repeal of much of its meaning, creating intolerable uncertainty and giving the Refugee Act 1996 a ghostly after-life such that years or even decades after its repeal, it could violently jerk back into life without warning at the whim of an applicant such as this one.”

The judgement also highlighted that an application for family reunification could have been made within the time limit, on the basis that efforts and inquiries were being made to contact the relatives.

Notably, the court held that an alternative remedy could have been made under the non-statutory Policy Document on Non-EEA Family Reunification 2015 or by applying for visas. [para 21]

Mr Humphrey’s opined that:

Para 23. “as there is a separate procedure which could potentially achieve the family reunification for the applicant’s relatives, particularly if the age of an applicant is a factor to be taken into account in that process. It would be an improvident use of the power to strike down legislation to embark on consideration of a challenge to that legislation where the applicant has not even applied under that separate procedure, let alone been refused.”

Mr Humphrey’s continued in Paragraph 25 affirming:

 “it is not a breach of any particular constitutional right to have a twelve-month time limit for family reunification or even to have a time limit that legal guardians must exercise on behalf of a person who is a minor at the time… The mere fact that a person has been admitted into the State for some purpose including international protection does not create a constitutional obligation on the State to admit any or all family members… does not generate a free-standing constitutional right on the part of others to enter the State which they did not otherwise possess. It is worth noting that… family reunification is encouraged by interested agencies but is not a legal obligation. Even if there is such a right, a generous twelve-month time limit is not disproportionate and thus no breach of substantive rights arises, and is well within the margin of appreciation of the Oireachtas.”

In this regard, Mr Justice Humphrey’s found that the window to apply for family reunification was not availed of and therefore dismissed the application.

The judgement places a significant obstacle against family reunification for refugees, and has an adverse impact on many people.

We understand this judgement is to be appealed to the Court of Appeal, and we will continue to post updates on the developments of this important appeal.

The full judgement can be read in full here