When applying to naturalise or register as a British citizen, adults and children aged ten or over must meet what is known as the ‘good character’ requirement. Associate Ruth Jowett analyses this potentially complex piece of legislation.
The British Nationality Act 1981 sets out the requirements that applicants aged ten or over must meet in order to successfully naturalise or register as a British citizen. One of the requirements necessitates applicants to show that they are of good character. The Act does not provide a definition of ‘good character’. However, Home Office guidance provides an overview of the factors that will be considered. These factors are:
- international crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity;
- financial soundness;
- immigration related matters; and
Criminality is one of the most frequent grounds cited by the Home Office when it refuses an individual’s application to become a British citizen.
Applicants must declare all previous and pending criminal convictions in their applications, including criminal convictions that may be considered ‘spent’ for other purposes.
The impact of a criminal conviction will depend on the sentence which the applicant was given, and the amount of time that has passed since the conviction. A criminal conviction will lead to a refusal of an application to become a British citizen where it happened within a certain period leading up to submitting the application.
Sentences imposed overseas will usually be treated the same as those imposed in the UK, although convictions for behaviour that is legitimate in the UK will normally be disregarded. For example, homosexuality is unlawful in many countries but a conviction on this basis would not affect an application.
Sentences will be considered in the following way:
- Four years’ or more imprisonment
The sentence will usually lead to a refusal regardless of when the conviction occurred.
- 12 months to four years’ imprisonment
The sentence will usually lead to a refusal if it occurred in the 15 years preceding an application.
- Up to 12 months’ imprisonment
The sentence will usually lead to a refusal if it occurred in the ten years preceding an application.
- Non-custodial sentence or other out of court disposal
e.g. cautions, warnings, community sentences, hospital orders and fines.
The sentence will usually lead to a refusal if it occurred in the three years preceding an application.
The Home Office guidance, referred to above, states that:
“fixed penalty notices, such as those received for road speeding offences will not normally result in refusal unless the person has failed to pay or has unsuccessfully challenged the notice and there were subsequent criminal proceedings resulting in a conviction. In such instances, they should be treated in line with the sentence imposed by the court”.
However, applicants should be aware that if they have a number of fixed penalty notices across a short period of time, this could be taken to demonstrate that they have a disregard for the law and are not of good character.
How we can help
Our immigration experts are able to provide advice and guidance in relation to naturalisation and registration applications. If you are interested in making an application, our team would be delighted to assist and can be contacted here.