Spila v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform

adminLeave a Comment

Respondent/Defendant:Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Court/s:High Court
Citation/s:[2012] IEHC 336
Nature of Proceedings:Judicial Review
Judgment Date/s:31 Jul 2012
Judge:Cooke J
Category:Citizenship, Naturalisation
Keywords:Alien, Citizenship, Citizenship (Acquisition of), Country of Birth, Nationality, Nationality (Ethnic), Naturalisation, Stateless Person
Country of Origin:Latvia (Ethnic Russian)
URL:https://www.courts.ie/acc/alfresco/031a0c42-4d25-441d-8bd1-460eb938823e/2012_IEHC_336_1.pdf/pdf#view=fitH
Geographic Focus:Ireland

Facts

The applicants were ethnic Russians born in Latvia and residing in Ireland from 1999 onwards. They applied for naturalisation as Irish citizens under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended). They described themselves in their application as “Latvian (ethnic Russian)”. However, under Latvian law they only had an entitlement to an “Alien’s passport” from the Latvian authorities, with no rights to vote and were not classed by the Latvian authorities as EU citizens.

The Minister refused their applications on the basis that they had benefited from State financial support for lengthy periods in the past. It stated that the Minister’s general policy was to require applicants for naturalisation to show that they had supported themselves while residing in the State and would be in a position to continue to do so into the future. This was the position unless they came within a category of persons whom, the Minister accepted, by virtue of their recognised status as refugees, programme refugee or stateless persons, could avail of State support. The Minister would be satisfied that an applicant is self-supporting if there was no evidence of their having accessed State support in the three year period prior to the application and they had supported themselves independently during that period.

The applicants’ solicitors wrote to the Minister indicating that notwithstanding the applicants’ classification of themselves as Latvian (ethnic Russian) they were in fact stateless persons within the meaning of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954. Therefore they came within one of the categories which the Minister accepted did not need to show they had supported themselves independently of the State. They requested the Minister to reconsider his decision on the basis that they should be categorised as stateless.

Reasoning

The essential issues identified by the Court was whether or not the applicants as ethnic Russians originating in Latvia by birth were stateless and whether in the application of his policy the Minister erred in answering that question. Expert evidence was tendered to the Court by both parties as to the status of the applicants in Lithuanian law and reference was made to jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The Court held that it was not necessary for it to come to a view on the status of the applicants as stateless as a matter of international law or otherwise.

First, the Minister was not explicitly requested to consider whether, as ethnic Russian Latvians, they were stateless in any sense and it was only after the Minister’s decisions that the applicants asserted that they were stateless. It was clear that the central consideration in the refusal was that the applicants had been in receipt of social welfare support and not that they were stateless. Also, it found that having regard to the Minister’s absolute discretion under Section  15 of the 1956 Act the mixed question of fact and law as to whether the applicants, in their particular personal circumstances, were stateless, was first and foremost a matter of policy for the Minister, and for him to decide that in the first instance.

Secondly, Cooke J. found that the Minister was not put on inquiry as to their character as stateless persons. In particular, the refusal decisions offered the possibility to make new applications, and it was open to the applicants to do so, incorporating all the new information and expert opinion they had relied upon, and that was the appropriate course for them to follow.

Decision

The Minister was not explicitly requested to consider whether, as ethnic Russian Latvians, they were stateless in any sense and it was only after the Minister’s decisions that the applicants asserted that they were stateless. The central consideration in the refusal was that the applicants had been in receipt of social welfare support and not that they were stateless. Having regard to the Minister’s absolute discretion under Section  15 of the 1956 Act, the mixed question of fact and law as to whether the applicants, in their particular personal circumstances, were stateless, was first and foremost a matter of policy for the Minister, and for him to decide that in the first instance.

The Minister was not put on inquiry as to their character as stateless persons. The refusal decisions offered the possibility to make new applications, and it was open to the applicants to do so, incorporating all the new information and expert opinion they had relied upon, and that was the appropriate course for them to follow. The judicial review application was refused.

Principles:

Having regard to the Minister’s absolute discretion under Section  15 of the 1956 Act* the mixed question of fact and law as to whether the applicants, in their particular personal circumstances, were stateless, was first and foremost a matter of policy for the Minister, and for him to decide that in the first instance. 

It is always possible to make a new application for naturalisation incorporating all new and relevant information and expert opinion relied upon, including as to issues of statelessness.

(* Regard should now be had to the decision of the Supreme Court in Mallak v Minister for Justice [2012] IESC 59, 6 December 2012, on the nature of the Minister’s ‘absolute’ discretion under s. 15 of the 1956 Act.)

Go Back

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *