GKN v Minister for Justice and Equality

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Respondent/Defendant:Minister for Justice and Equality
Court/s:High Court
Citation/s:[2014] IEHC 478
Nature of Proceedings:First instance
Judgment Date/s:22 Oct 2014
Judge:MacEochaidh J.
Category:Citizenship
Keywords:Citizenship, First instance, Naturalisation
Country of Origin:Kenya
URL:https://www.courts.ie/acc/alfresco/c86e29fd-ab20-4554-b181-3750f8e935c8/2014_IEHC_478_1.pdf/pdf#view=fitH
Geographic Focus:Ireland

Facts:
The applicant held a declaration of refugee status and applied to the Minister for Justice for a certificate of naturalisation. It was disclosed in the course of the application that he had been arrested and convicted of hit and run and leaving the scene of the accident, in respect of which he was fined €300 in respect of both offences. The incident in question resulted in an unoccupied vehicle being grazed by the applicant’s vehicle.

His application was refused. The letter of refusal stated the Minister’s decision was based on the offences in question and referred to a submission which had been prepared for him, which stated that he had come to the adverse attention of the Gardaí, as set out in an attached report. It stated that the resulting fine had been paid, that the applicant had two Irish-born children and that he was a self-employed taxi driver. However, the view was taken that the offence was serious, and that his application for a certificate of naturalisation was not being recommended.

The applicant contended that the decision ought to be quashed because it was taken in breach of fair procedures and the right to constitutional justice arising from the alleged failure of the Minister to have regard to certain matters which were on file, the most important of which was the fact that the episode which resulted in a criminal conviction was a very minor incident involving the grazing of a vehicle. In addition, he contended that critical facts were not weighed by the Minister, including the fact that he was married, that he had two children (Irish citizen children), the date of his refugee status and that he was tax-compliant.

The court decided to quash the refusal of his application for a certificate of naturalisation.

Reasoning:
The court noted that the offence in question arose under s. 106 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which criminalised failure to stop and failure to remain at the scene of an incident whereby injury was caused to a person or to property. It observed that the documents before the Minister did not indicate that the injury in this instance was not to a person, but to a vehicle, nor that the injury was of a very minor nature, involving only the grazing of the vehicle in question. It considered the statement in the submission that the offence was “serious” to be unclear.

In its view, if it was being suggested thereby that the offence under s. 106 was serious, it considered that that was too broad an analysis upon which to build a negative naturalisation recommendation, because offences under s. 106 of failing to stop and failing to remain at a scene of an incident could involve extremely minor occurrences or serious events involving loss of life. Thus, the mere fact that an offence under s. 106 was recorded against an applicant could not, of itself, rationally ground a negative naturalisation recommendation.

On the other hand, if it was being suggested thereby that the offence committed by the applicant was serious, it held that it would have been irrational. It agreed with sentiments expressed in an English case, Hiri v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWHC 254 (Admin), namely that, in order to conduct a proper assessment, the Minister ought to have regard to the outline facts of any offence and to any mitigating factors, and also to the severity of the sentence, within the sentencing range, as that might be a valuable indicator of the gravity of the offending behaviour in the eyes of the sentencing court.

The court also held that, the Minister’s officials having obtained information from the applicant about the circumstances of the incident, which from his perspective was exculpatory in nature, it was incumbent upon the author of the submission to draw that to the Minister’s attention, and that the failure to do so breached the applicant’s constitutional rights.

Decision:
The court accordingly quashed the Minister’s decision.

Principles:

If, when assessing applications for certificates of naturalisation, officials in the Department of Justice are aware of information tending to suggest that an applicant is not of good character, such as having had a conviction recorded against him, then in order to conduct a proper assessment of his application, they should have regard to the outline facts of the offence, any mitigating factors, the maximum punishment and the punishment imposed, as the latter would likely indicate the gravity of the offending behaviour in the eyes of the sentencing court.

If an applicant makes representations to the Minister in connection with an offence or circumstances in which he came to the adverse attention of the Gardaí as might tend to excuse his behaviour, the officials should weigh that in the balance in accordance with fair procedures, and bring it to the attention of the Minister.

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