The applicant was an Algerian who had been granted refugee status in the State in 2007. He applied for a certificate of naturalisation in February, 2008. A decision had yet to be made in January, 2012, when he instituted proceedings and obtained leave to compel the Minister for Justice to make a decision in it.
In the intervening period, a considerable amount of correspondence had passed between his solicitors and the Minister for Justice in relation to the question of when a decision might be made on the application. The Minister did not give a specific reason for the time taken to make a decision on the application, but had indicated at various points that this was due to the need to carry out various checks with a view to determining whether or not the applicant met the statutory conditions for naturalisation.
A decision was made in May, 2012 to grant the applicant naturalisation, which rendered the proceedings moot save as to costs. Resisting the applicant’s application for costs, the Minister put affidavit evidence before the court explaining that the application had taken a lengthy period to determine because it was one of those in which particular potential security issues had to be addressed in the context of assessing whether or not the applicant was of “good character”, which was one of the prerequisites to obtaining a certificate of naturalisation, unless the Minister decided to waive it. It was explained that the nature of inquiries which had to be carried out were such that the Minister could not set a deadline for their completion. Moreover, it was explained that some checks had to be made with external agencies and the time taken for them to reply was outside the Minister’s control. Nonetheless, he had made efforts to expedite matters as far as possible.
The High Court held that affidavit evidence on behalf of the Minister was of considerable assistance in providing a much more complete understanding of the chronology of events that gave rise to the elapse of time in dealing with the application. It provided a useful insight into how the applicant’s case was investigated and confirmed that the Minister was dependent upon parties outside his control to provide relevant information to his investigation. The chronology indicated continuing efforts of a general nature by him to obtain information and that, once received, the information was assessed and the decision made within a relatively short time.
Nonetheless it stated that it was regrettable that the bare chronology outlined on behalf of the Minister outlining what had happened to the application had not been provided to the applicant and that that could have been done without any difficulty. This militated in favour of making some award of costs to the applicant.
In deciding to award the applicant half his costs, the High Court considered that the case was not one where the Minister had made a unilateral decision rendering the proceedings moot, which would ordinarily lead to costs being awarded against him. Rather, it occupied an intermediate position on the spectrum. This was on account of the fact that, although the mootness of the proceedings was not entirely due to an external event, there was an external element to it, namely the need to await information from external agencies, which the Minister regarded as a prerequisite to the making of his decision. The court noted that, on receipt of the relevant information from the external agency, the relevant officials were able to provide a written recommendation for the Minister. The court held that the applicant had acted reasonably in issuing the proceedings given the unexplained delay which had obtained at the time he did so in January, 2012. He had also acted with forbearance given the elapse of time of some 44 to 45 months before he did so. He could not be considered to have acted precipitately.