British citizenship, the good character requirement and criminal convictions and offending banner


British citizenship, the good character requirement and criminal convictions and offending

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What does the question “are you of good character” mean? Why is it so important? If you are not a London Immigration solicitor, you might think “good character” is rather old fashioned.

As London immigration solicitors, we come across the phrase “good character” almost on a daily basis whilst handling applications for British Citizenship.

Immigration rules say an applicant for British Citizenship, who is over ten years of age, must be of “good character” to obtain British Citizenship. This is a mandatory requirement.
You would think that there would be a legal definition of what amounts to “good character” and conversely what amounts to bad character.
top London immigration solicitors advise that there is no statutory definition of “good character”.
Guidance on the meaning of good character for the purposes of a British Citizenship application is given in the Nationality Instructions. The court has also made case law when challenges have been made to Home Office refusal to grant British Citizenship.
If you are in any doubt about the “good character” aspect of a British Citizenship application, it is vital to get legal advice from a top London Immigration solicitor to maximise the prospects of a successful application.

How can OTS Solicitors help?

OTS Solicitors are specialist in Immigration law matters and recommended for Immigration law in the Legal 500 directory. OTS Solicitors have Law Society accredited solicitors’ status as trusted specialists in Immigration law.
For advice on applying for British Citizenship and naturalisation and challenging Home Office decisions on good character, please call us on 0203 959 9123 to arrange an appointment to speak to one of our experienced London immigration solicitors.

The good character test

The Home Office has to be satisfied that an applicant for British Citizenship is of good character on the “balance of probabilities”.
In order for the Home Office to determine if an applicant is of good character the rules state that an applicant must answer all questions asked of them during the British Citizenship application process honestly and in full. They must also inform the Home
Office of any significant event, for example, a pending prosecution, that might affect the good character assessment.

Reasons to consider that an applicant is not of “good character”

The Home Office will not normally consider a person to be of good character if an applicant has:

• Been convicted of certain crimes or there are reasonable grounds to suspect they are engaged in criminality; or

• They have been involved in or associated with war crimes or crimes against humanity; or

• Their financial affairs are not in appropriate order. For example, they are not financially sound or they have not paid taxes; or

• Their activities cast serious doubt on their standing in the local community; or

• They had been deliberately dishonest or deceptive in their dealings with the government; or

• They have assisted in the evasion of Immigration control. For example, they participated in a sham marriage; or

• They have previously been deprived of British Citizenship.

You may think that this is an exhaustive list of bad character traits. However, according to Home Office guidance, the list is non-exhaustive.
top London immigration solicitors advise that if an applicant does not fit into one of categories set out above but there are doubts about their character, the Home Office caseworker may still refuse the British Citizenship application. Alternatively, they can ask the applicant to attend an interview in order to make an overall assessment.

Good character and criminal convictions

If you have a criminal record, it does not necessarily mean that an application for British Citizenship will be refused.
Some applicants think that if they wait to apply for British Citizenship their convictions will be “spent” and therefore will not be considered by the Home Office.
Some Immigration and nationality decisions are now exempt from section 4 of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that it does not matter whether the conviction is “spent” when the Home Office caseworker assesses good character provided the application is made in England, Wales or Scotland. Different rules apply in Northern Ireland.
When considering a criminal conviction the Home Office considers:
• The crime;
• The nature and length of sentence imposed;
• When the sentence was imposed;
• Whether there is a pattern of persistent offending;
• The age of the offender and other factors;
• Whether the offence was one of deception or dishonesty or caused serious harm.
The caseworker will then refer to guidance on whether or not to refuse the application.
The best London immigration solicitors advise applicants to seek legal advice about applying for British Citizenship and the timing of their application. This is because one of the criteria that the Home Office look at is the length of time that has elapsed since the imposition of the criminal sentence.
The Home Office has published very detailed guidance on how their good character assessment is affected by a criminal conviction and the nature (custodial or non-custodial) of the sentence.

Relevance of pending criminal proceedings

Pending criminal proceedings should be disclosed. If the applicant does not disclose a pending matter then, in the view of the Home Office, this casts doubts over their honesty and good character.

Relevance of convictions outside of the UK

Top Immigration solicitors advise that if a criminal conviction occurred outside the UK it should be disclosed in the application form.
If the conviction was for something that is legal in the UK, for example a homosexual relationship or membership of a trade union, the caseworker can be authorised to ignore the conviction.

Good character test and suspected criminal activity

If the Home Office receives information that an applicant is known or strongly suspected of criminal activity, but has not been charged or convicted of an offence the caseworker can take into account the information. However, the reliability of the information has to be considered.
The best London immigration solicitors advise that where the Home Office caseworker thinks there is firm and convincing information to suggest that a person is a “knowing and active participant” in serious crime (for example drug or people trafficking), the application will normally be refused.

Incorrectly completed British Citizenship applications

If an applicant does not complete the application correctly, the caseworker will consider the criminal conviction as well as whether the failure to declare the conviction casts doubt on good character.

Applying discretion when looking at convictions and the British Citizenship good character test

Although there is guidance on how to assess good character, dependant on the nature of the conviction and the nature and length of the sentence, there is some discretion with caseworkers looking at individual circumstances to determine applications on their own merits.
For example, take the case of a young adult who received a custodial sentence over 10 years ago. After that, the applicant kept out of trouble. They could be said to be of better character than the persistent minor offender who has received many non-custodial sentences for nuisance offences.
Top London solicitors find that applicants understand the reasons behind a good character test when applying for British Citizenship and the relevance of criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.
However applicants for British Citizenship can struggle to understand the decision making process and the relevance placed on certain convictions or length of sentence or Home Office reliance on information without a conviction.
If you are considering applying for British Citizenship and you have any concerns about the good character test, it is sensible to take advice from a top London Immigration solicitor on your proposed application and the timing of it. Taking proactive Immigration advice may stop your application from rejection because it has not been completed as fully as is required by the Home Office.

How can OTS Solicitors help?

OTS Solicitors are specialist in Immigration law matters.
OTS Solicitors are recommended for Immigration law in the Legal 500. OTS Solicitors have Law Society accredited solicitors status as trusted specialists in Immigration law.
For more information on British citizenship, naturalisation or any aspect of personal or business immigration law please call us on 0203 959 9123 to arrange an appointment to speak to one of our experienced London immigration solicitors who will be happy to help.

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