Government acted unlawfully in setting £1000 fee for children to register as British citizens
Campaigners have hailed a “landmark ruling” after the High Court found that the Government acted unlawfully in setting a £1,012 fee for children to register as a British citizen.
The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) argued the “exorbitant” registration fee – for an application which costs the Home Office just £372 to process – effectively removes children’s entitlement to citizenship.
In a judgment delivered on Thursday, Mr Justice Jay said that the fee was unlawful because the Home Office had “failed to have regard to the best interests” of children affected by the level of the fee.
The PRCBC says that many children who are entitled to citizenship, having been born in the UK and lived here for their first 10 years, are prevented from applying because of the “excessively high” fee.
The case, which was supported by Amnesty International UK, was brought on behalf of two children identified only as O who is 12 years old, and A, three, both of whom were born in the UK and have lived here their entire lives.
The judge ruled that the regulations which set the fee “are unlawful in that respect to the extent that they set the fee for registration applications brought by children at £1,012”.
He added that there was “no evidence” that the Home Office had “identified where the best interests of children seeking registration lie, has begun to characterise those interests properly (or) has identified that the level of fee creates practical difficulties for many”.
Mr Justice Jay said the evidence before the court showed that “for a substantial number of children, a fee of £1,012 is simply unaffordable”, which made the children affected “feel alienated, excluded, isolated, ‘second-best’, insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK”.
The judge added that O and her mother could only afford the fee “by taking steps which to my mind would be wholly unreasonable”.
Mr Justice Jay dismissed the PRCBC’s argument that the level of the fee was unlawful because it renders a child’s entitlement to British citizenship “nugatory”.
But he said that he was referring that issue “to be considered in the Supreme Court if that court so advises”.
The judge also gave the Home Office permission to appeal against his ruling.
In a statement after the ruling, Solange Valdez-Symonds, co-founder of the PRCBC, said: “It is significant that the court has recognised British citizenship is the right of these and thousands of children and that the consequences of blocking their registration rights is alienating and harmful.
“While that recognition is a great step forward, the fact remains that tens of thousands of British children are growing up in this country deprived of their rights to its citizenship, including by this shamelessly profiteering fee.
“For too long, children and their citizenship rights have not been respected. That must change.
“The Government should make an immediate start by ending the use of this fee to raise revenue for the Home Office.”
Responding to the judgment, O – who told the court of her fear that her school friends would find out that she is “not British like them” – said: “I am glad I got to tell the court my story.
“I was born in this country and have lived here all my life. I feel as British as any of my friends and it’s not right that I am excluded from citizenship by a huge fee.
“I want to be able to do all the things my friends can. I don’t want to have to worry they will find out I don’t have a British passport and think that means I am not the same as them.”
Carol Bohmer, chair of the PRCBC, said: “This is a landmark ruling. But the fight for justice for children born and growing up in the UK goes on.”
She added: “The damage done to thousands of children is dreadful and still far from fully quantifiable.
“So much more still needs to be done so that children, their parents and carers, know their citizenship rights and to ensure the many barriers to exercising these rights are removed, including this profit-making fee.”
Maria Patsalos, a solicitor at Mishcon de Reya who acted for the PRCBC, said: “Whilst this is a step in the right direction, we encourage urgent action to set the fee at a much lower and more accessible level, removing the profit element, and to introduce fee waivers for children who need them.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We note the court’s judgment and will consider its implications carefully.”
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