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Supreme Court Passes Landmark Ruling on British Citizenship

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Posted on February 09th 2018

Yesterday, the Supreme Court passed a landmark ruling which overrules historic gender discrimination in British citizenship by descent applications and leaves open the possibility that more people born abroad may now be able to apply for British citizenship.

Prior to 1983, children born abroad to British citizens were able to apply for British citizenship – but only if the male parent was a British citizen. Under another condition, if the male parent was himself a British citizen by descent, the child would only be eligible for British citizenship if they were registered at a consulate within one year of birth – this is sometimes known as “double descent”. British citizenship could not be obtained through the female line under any circumstance.

Parliament went some way to equalise historic gender discrimination through the British Nationality Act 1981 which included provisions to allow applications for citizenship through the female line for those born in 1983 onwards. In 2003 and 2009 the Act was further amended to include retrospective applications for some of those born before 1983 with British mothers to register with the Secretary of State as British citizens, and to require new applications to be dealt with as if the law had never discriminated against descent from the mother. This should have covered cases of gender discrimination in descent citizenship applications ,granting those born abroad with British mothers to apply for British citizenship.

However, in 2013, respondent, Ms Romein, had an application for citizenship by descent rejected. Ms Romein’s mother was herself a British citizen by descent and her father a US citizen which, under the updated legislation, should have made Ms Romein a clear candidate for citizenship by double descent. The application was rejected by the Home Secretary onthe grounds that Ms Romein had not been registered for British citizenship at a consulate within the year long period after her birth. Her mother claimed that she had been told by officials at the time of Ms Romein’s birth that registration would serve no purpose as nationality could only be passed through the male line, and therefore she did not register Ms Romein.

The Supreme Court ruled in Ms Romein’s favour, arguing that the registration condition is inapplicable in applications for citizenship by descent from the mother – particularly as consular staff at the time were acting in accordance with the law.

Overarchingly, the ruling by the Supreme Court leaves open the possibility that British citizenship could be given to many more persons born abroad than the current status quo has allowed. There are, as of yet, no estimations on how many people this could affect but it is likely that there are others who may now be eligible for citizenship where registration did not take place, and who can prove that they would have been able to become a British citizen if historic legislation had not been discriminatory.

For more on this please go to:…




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