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“Deep concern” for children being denied their right to British nationality

9 July 2019

The UK Parliament's Human Rights Committee expresses its “deep concern” for children who are being denied their right to claim British nationality because of the Government's “unduly heavy-handed approach” of application of the ‘good character' test under current British Nationality Law.

The report scrutinises the Government's proposed changes to the British Nationality Act 1981 which are designed to make them compatible with human rights.

The Committee welcomes the Government's draft Order which will remedy some of the current issues in the Act but highlights outstanding concerns.

“Unduly heavy-handed approach”

At the moment, a police caution or minor offence could mean that children who have grown up their whole lives in the UK could be denied British citizenship.

MPs and Peers believe it is inappropriate to deny children the right to citizenship because of a mere police caution. Evidence shows that this is affecting children as young as 10 years old who have lived all their lives in the UK.

The Committee believes this is an inappropriate application of ‘good character' and does not allow for adequate consideration of the rights of the child.

Further, the Government were unable to justify to the Committee why the ‘good character' test is so heavily applied to children who have grown up in the UK.

The cost of applying

In previous reports the Committee raised the concern that people refused British nationality because of discrimination should not have to pay an application fee a second time to reapply.

The Committee welcomes the fact that Minister Caroline Nokes plans to change this so that people don't have to pay again for a reapplication. 

However, this will not change the general position of children with a right to British nationality, in respect of whom the Government charges four figure fees.  This means the Government is asking children for fees that are more than three times the cost recovery for processing such an application.

The Committee is concerned that disproportionately high fees could risk excluding children from more vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds from accessing their rights.

Urgent action required

While this Order rectifies one incompatibility with human rights in nationality law, other potential incompatibilities are easily identifiable, as noted in the Committee's earlier report on the proposal for an Order. In that report the Committee identified continuing “unacceptable” discrimination based on whether a child's father or mother was British, and on the marital status of the child's parents in relation to British Overseas Territories Citizenship.

MPs and Peers say the Home Office should review its proposed changes to the law and act “without delay” to ensure a fair, non-discriminatory approach to UK nationality law.

Further information

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