The Applicant was a national of Pakistan who had lived in Ireland lawfully since 2000. He applied for certificate of naturalization in December 2005. In March 2010 his application was refused by the Minister on the grounds that he had not disclosed that he had not disclosed on his application form that he had been investigated by Gardai for passing counterfeit currency and possession of counterfeit clothing and that, having come to the attention of Gardai, he was not of ‘good character’ for the purposes of section 15 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, as amended. The Applicant obtained the leave of the High Court (Peart J.) to challenge the Minister’s decision on the grounds (a) that there was no basis for the Minister’s suggestion that he had failed to make the appropriate disclosure required by the application form for naturalization – he had never been the subject, in the words of the application form, of any ‘judicial proceedings (civil or criminal)’ – and (b) that the Minister failed to observe fair procedures in failing to put his concerns about the Garda investigations to the Applicant for comment before reaching an adverse decision.
In its judgment on the substantive application for judicial review, the High Court (Hogan J.) found that the Garda investigations into the Applicant’s conduct did not constitute ‘judicial proceedings (civil or criminal)’ and that the Applicant could not be faulted for failing to make disclosure of these matters in his application form for naturalization.
The Court noted that there was no settled or fixed interpretation of the words ‘good character’ in section 15 but that, interpreted in the statutory context, they meant that the applicant’s character and conduct must measure up to reasonable standards of civic responsibility as gauged by reference to contemporary values. The Court observed that by describing the discretion as ‘absolute’, the Oireachtas intended to emphasise that the grant by the Minister of a certificate of naturalisation ‘is the purely gratuitous, conferring of a privilege in exercise of the sovereign authority of the State.’ This did not mean that the Minister was freed from the obligations of adherence to the rule of law, as this would be open the way for the imposition of private morality and arbitrary choice in the sphere of public law. The Court noted that the Minister’s assessment of the good character issue was amenable to judicial review and that his conclusion had to be one which was bona fide held and factually sustainable and not unreasonable. The Court held that if the Minister wished to reach a conclusion adverse to the Applicant on the basis of the Garda reports, he was obliged as a matter of fair procedures to put matters not involving a criminal record or pending civil or criminal proceedings to the Applicant for his comments. For these reasons, the Court quashed the Ministerial decision and remitted the matter for reconsideration.