Recently, the High Court published an important decision in an application for Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s decision to refuse naturalisation on grounds of ‘good character’. In Hiri v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 254 (Admin), the Administrative Court ruled that a decision to deport a former serving British soldier to Botswana because of a speeding conviction was legally flawed and ordered Home Secretary Theresa May, to reconsider her decision in accordance with the law. The case, which was heard last month, provides insight into how the Secretary of State must approach assessments of an applicant’s character by reference to immigration policy.
Hiri v Secretary of State for the Home Department: Facts of the Case
Hiri, aged 33, is a national of Botswana who served four years in the British armed forces and remains in the reserves. In November 2011, he was convicted after he was filmed on a traffic camera travelling at 81mph in an area where there was a temporary 50mph speed limit. He was driving on the M1 near Swinford, Leicestershire, at 1.21am after leaving Ripon barracks, North Yorkshire, to begin Easter leave. Hiri was unaware of the temporary speed limit and he was not aware that he had exceeded the 70 mph speed limit.
In December 2011, Hiri was advised by his commanding officers that as a citizen of Botswana who was serving in the British Army, he would be at risk of prosecution and confiscation of his passport if he returned. In February 2012, he made an application for naturalisation which was subsequently refused in May 2012. The reason for refusal was that the Home Office was not satisfied that he met the ‘good character’ requirement for naturalisation because of his speeding conviction which would not be ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 until 17th November 2016. After requesting reconsideration of the decision and applying for asylum, which is still pending, Hiri made an application for Judicial Review which was heard before the High Court last month.
High Court: Home Office Must Consider All Aspects of Applicant’s Character
The Learned Judge, Justice Lang, stated that the Home Office’s decision in May 2012, indicated that the assessment of Hiri’s character was based entirely upon the fact that Hiri had an unspent conviction; there was no reference to any other aspect of his character and background.
At paragraph 35 of the judgement, Justice Lang stated:
“In my judgment, in deciding whether an applicant for naturalisation meets the requirement that “he is of good character”, for the purposes of the British Nationality Act 1981, the Defendant must consider all aspects of the applicant’s character. The statutory test is not whether applicants have previous criminal convictions – it is much wider in scope than that.”
The judge ruled that the Home Secretary was “entitled to adopt a policy on the way in which criminal convictions will normally be considered by her caseworkers, but it should not be applied mechanistically and inflexibly”.
She added: “There has to be a comprehensive assessment of each applicant’s character, as an individual, which involves an exercise in judgment, not just ticking boxes on a form.”
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