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Latitude Law

Best interests – is the UK Home Office letting children down?


It is a long-established principle in the UK and many other jurisdictions that the government should act in the best interests of the child.  The welfare of children must be a primary consideration (albeit not a paramount one), to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.  Despite this, Summer 2018 saw an almost unprecedented number of news stories and scandals concerning how the Home Office treats children both living in the UK, and who have a claim to British citizenship.  This article looks at some of the issues which have emerged, and how they are being tackled.

The cost of registering a child as British

A legal challenge against the Home Office has brought public attention to the cost of applications to register qualifying children as British. The fee, currently £1012, is almost £700 higher than the administrative cost of processing the application, something many consider to be unfair.

The legal challenge is being brought by the Project for Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and Amnesty International. The intention is that UK Visas and Immigration will be required to end the “shameless profiteering” which, for many families, stops a registration application from being made.  If your family is experiencing difficulty raising the funds for an application of this type, it may be worthwhile delaying action to await the outcome of the case.

EU nationals and their children

There are millions of EU nationals living in the UK, many of them having done so for years. However, UK Visas and Immigration has identified an “omission” in guidance used between 2008 and 2014, upon which people relied when applying for first British passports for children born in the UK.  This has led to refusals of applications to renew those passports, with a requirement to submit documents that were never requested when the original documents were made.

Given that this issue affects nationals from countries that joined the EU in 2004 (including Poland, for example), unsurprisingly some of the requested evidence is now difficult to obtain. The Home Office has said that the affected children will need to re-register as a British, despite having held that status for upto 10 years.

If your child is refused permission to renew their passport, or told to re-register as a British citizen, it may be possible to challenge that decision. Contact of our experts to discuss the matter further.

Revocation of citizenship

At the start of this month, the case of Mohamed Bangoura hit the headlines. Mohamed – a six-year-old boy born in the UK and living in Sheffield – was denied permission to return to the UK after a holiday to see family friends in Belgium.  The issue was that Mohamed’s passport had been cancelled by the Home Office, who were no longer satisfied of Mohamed’s eligibility for citizenship. Unfortunately, their decision had been communicated to Mohamed’s mother by letter only; a letter which she claims was never received.  Mohamed’s mother was not travelling with him, leaving the pair separated just as the new school year was beginning.  Thankfully they were reunited a few days after media coverage began, but the issue of Mohamed’s revoked passport now needs to be addressed.

The law at play here is a particularly arcane one: in 2009 the British Nationality Act 1981 was amended, to define a child’s “father” as (in most circumstances) the husband of the child’s mother. Only if a woman is not married will the biological father be the legal parent. Mohamed mother had married some years ago, then separated; her legal husband remained in Guinea.  She was not settled in the UK when he was born; however, it is alleged that Mohamed’s real father is British.  The fact that Mohamed’s mother was estranged from her husband and seeking a divorce, didn’t matter.

Since neither the mother nor the legal father were settled in the UK at the time of Mohamed’s birth, he has no automatic legal entitlement to British citizenship.  Once again, a passport was considered to have been issued to a young child in error, and was summarily taken away from him.  No mechanism exists to override the legal definition of “father” in favour of the real father, who as a British citizen would have been able to pass on that citizenship to his son.

In cases like this, public interest (created by media coverage) can be invaluable. On 31 August BuzzFeed news ran a fascinating article concerning a “secret [Home Officer] process to solve immigration cases that generate negative headlines”, https://www.buzzfeed.com/emilydugan/home-office-secret-process-immigration-media.  The increased value of media coverage has been seen in numerous cases throughout this year, with many of them including children.  The recent (successful) plea for a chess protégé to be granted status is another example of this.

So what to do if your child is being treated unfairly?

  • Try to plan ahead, if you can. If you can see that your child will be affected by one of the issues raised above, prepare for that with additional documents (if available).
  • Consider whether you can contest the Home Office decision. Some cases might come with a right of appeal, others may be challenged by other means.
  • If in doubt, take some expert advice. A specialist immigration lawyer might be able to assist you to resolve matters quickly.
  • Could your case gather public support? You might find it useful to approach your local MP, and if your circumstances raise wider public policy issues, the media might be interested too.

 

If you would like to speak to one of our experts, call us on 0161 234 6808 (Manchester & London) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool)