Good character in nationality cases

The "good character" requirement is a mandatory requirement that anyone over 10 years old who applies for British citizenship must meet. There is no statutory definition of "good character" but guidance is given in Chapter 18 of Volume 1 of the Nationality Instructions. Although the requirements were amended on 11 December 2014 and quietly tightened up, there have been recent challenges to the requirement.

The most recent of these came in the case of R(Bangs) v Secretary of State for the Home Department. The applicant here had been born in the 1960s to a British mother and an American father. When he was born, he was not eligible for British citizenship as the law at the time did not allow a British mother to pass on her nationality. Mr Bangs was convicted of murder in 1993 and released on life licence in 2004. He was then convicted in 2013 of an offence of using threatening words, for which he received a fine of £150. The Home Office subsequently initiated deportation proceedings against him.

The applicant made a human rights claim which was certified under s94B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 meaning that he could not appeal against the decision to refuse his claim from inside the UK. He challenged this decision.

Under s4C of the British Nationality Act 1981, a person became entitled to be registered as British where they were born before 01 January 1983 and their mother is British. This provision came into force on 30 April 2003. Since 13 January 2010, a person applying under this route also had to satisfy the good character requirement. Due to his criminal convictions, Mr Bangs could not satisfy the good character requirement under s4C and so was not eligible for British citizenship. As such, he argued that the good character requirement in the context of s4C was incompatible with his Article 8 rights.

By a consent order, sealed on 04 July 2017, the High Court made an order quashing the deportation and s94B certification decisions. The court held that the good character requirement in s4C is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Prior to the decision in Bangs, in R (on the application of Johnson) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) [2016] UKSC 56, the Supreme Court made a declaration of incompatibility in respect of paragraph 70 of Schedule 9 to the Immigration Act 2014, which imposes a requirement that an applicant for British citizenship who, but for their parents' marital status would have automatically acquired citizenship at birth, be also of good character.

To complete the picture, in July 2017 the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration completed a review of the good character requirement for young people (those between 10 and 17). Under the British Nationality Act 1981, young applicants who meet certain conditions are automatically entitled to registration, whilst others may be granted registration on a discretionary basis. These discretionary applicants must meet the good character requirements. This review made two recommendations:

The current guidance in relation to applications for registration as British citizens from young persons should be reviewed to ensure that it accurately reflects the Home Secretary's policy intention.

Guidance should be produced on the good character requirement in the case of young people applying for registration as British citizens that makes explicit the scope for caseworkers to exercise discretion, and ensures compliance with the Home Office's statutory responsibilities.

The Home Office has accepted both of these recommendations and commented that agreement would be sought on the approach to be taken when differentiating between young persons and adults when assessing the good character requirement.

If you are facing difficulty applying for British citizenship because of character issues, we may be able to help – to arrange an appointment call our Manchester office on 0161 234 6800 or Liverpool on 0151 305 9600.