Applications for British Citizenship - The Good Character Requirement.
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Applications for British Citizenship
- The Good Character Requirement.

The overwhelming majority of applicants for naturalisation and registration are required to satisfy the test of good character. The requirement is an old one, which was mentioned in Part 2 of the British Nationality Act 1914, was repeated in the Second Schedule to the British Nationality Act of 1948 and in it’s current form may be found in Schedule 1 of the British Nationality Act 1981.

In the original debate on the 1981 Act, the Minister then responsible for steering the bill through its Committee stages said that “…honesty and integrity are essential elements in any definition of good character” effectively making it clear that in looking to see if an applicant is of good character it is a wider assessment that encompasses matters of personal conduct, rather than simply focusing on criminal convictions. Financial responsibility has been a feature of good character for some time, and more recently, for example, attention is focused on matters such as war crimes, crimes against humanity or involvement in organisations concerned in terrorism.

The requirement is an unwaivable one, and generally the assessment of good character was undertaken at the date an application was being considered, rather than at the date the application was submitted.

On 5th December 2007 the Home Secretary made an announcement in respect of the good character requirement that prospective candidates must satisfy when applying for either naturalisation or registration as British citizens under the 1981 Act. The announcement, and the consequent change in policy that was set out, relates only to the question of criminal convictions.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 makes provision for criminal convictions to become “spent” after a certain period has elapsed, which depended on the length and type of sentence. Convictions resulting in a custodial sentence of more than 30 months could never become spent under the Act. However, in the past, the Home Office were willing to consider an application by reference to “clear periods” in respect of convictions which could never become spent. These clear periods are set out in the Guidance Notes accompanying the current application form for naturalisation.

As from 1st January 2008, the Home Office will no longer be using clear periods to determine if a conviction will be disregarded. The Guidance Notes are therefore being amended to reflect this change in policy.

The new policy is to use the rehabilitation periods specified in the 1974 Act, so, for example, an applicant who had received a custodial sentence in excess of 30 months is now unlikely to be successful. In certain cases an unspent conviction might be disregarded, such as speeding or a “regulatory” offence, where no custodial sentence has been imposed. However, drink driving or convictions for driving whilst disqualified or uninsured are not likely to be disregarded if they have not yet become spent. The same applies to offences involving dishonesty, violence or sexual offences (whether or not a custodial sentence has been imposed). Again, all applicants will have to wait until the conviction is spent before they can apply for registration or naturalisation.

Whilst most applicants need to satisfy this requirement, which has also recently been extended to minors over the age of 10, those seeking to be registered under Section 4B (applicants who hold a specifically defined subsidiary class of British nationality) and certain stateless persons are not subject to the requirement. The exemption for 4B applicants arises from an assurance given in Parliament in March 2006 that took account of the lack of a secure residence in the countries where they were currently living.

Paul L Simon Solicitors All Rights Reserved.
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