British Citizenship: The Good Character Requirement Applied To Minors

The ‘good character’ requirement is one of main requirements in applying to obtain British citizenship. It is also the most difficult requirement, because there is no official definition of ‘good character’ in the 1981 British Nationality Act. A guidance exists summarising the factors that must be taken into account when assessing this requirement.

The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 stipulates in Section 55 that the secretary of state has a duty to regard the welfare of children, and that their best interests should be a primary consideration in nationality decisions affecting them. Lately, it appears that this duty has been disregarded.

A strict application of the good character requirement has been applied to minors denying them of their right to citizenship. The Joint Committee on Human Rights appointment by Parliament recently investigated the issue an published a report: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201719/jtselect/jtrights/1943/1943.pdf

In summary, the report found that the “good character requirements were introduced into British nationality law initially only to apply to adults who sought to become British citizens through naturalisation, generally already having a connection with another country and having moved to the UK as adults. In the last decade or so these good character requirements have been extended to apply to children who are entitled to be British citizens, due to their close connection with the UK. Many of these children were born in the UK, have lived in the UK their whole lives (or nearly their whole lives) and regard themselves as British— and indeed anyone meeting them would assume they were British. The Committee is concerned that an unduly heavy-handed approach to the good character requirement is depriving children who have lived in the UK all of their lives from their right to British citizenship. Indeed, most of the children affected do not even have a criminal conviction.”

The report found that this strict interpretation of the requirement was also being applied to children born and raised in the UK, who have known no other culture. It was considered to be “inappropriate to apply the good character requirements to children who were born in and/or have grown up in the UK, having the UK as the principal country with which they have a close connection”.

Furthermore, an applicant is often refused on the basis of this requirement if they have committed a serious offence. However, the report found that young applicants were refused for simple cautions and non-custodial offences. It was found that “half of the children denied their “entitlement” (i.e. right) to British nationality on good character grounds have not even received a criminal conviction (having merely received a police caution)—let alone been prosecuted for “heinous crimes””.

The most concerning aspect is that the test is being applied to children as young as 10 years old. The report found that this test “is affecting children as young as ten years old who have lived all of their lives in the UK”. This is incredibly alarming as it contradicts human rights and the right of the child.

Overall, it appears that the Home Office have arbitrarily applied a strict interpretation of the requirement. They have further failed to provide an explanation for why such a strict interpretation should be applied to these children, who have been born and raised in the UK, and have no affiliation to any other country.

The report has urged the Home Office to provide justifications, and that the “Government should act without delay to ensure a fair, non-discriminatory approach to UK nationality law that is also in line with the rights of the child”.