By Zeyu Huang


A husband and wife of Iraqi origin were recently refused judicial review of a decision by the Home Secretary to decline their applications for naturalisation on the grounds of good character. The Secretary of State claimed that their behaviour since arriving in the UK in 2008 and 2009 did not outweigh the fact that they had been loyal members of the Ba’ath Party under Iraqi despot, Saddam Hussein.


But what is meant by “good character”?


Generally, this means that you have followed laws and respected the country’s  rights and freedoms. This includes paying your income tax and National Insurance contributions, and passing background checks, to name but a few.


Section 6(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 (BNA) provides:


‘if, on an application for naturalisation as British citizen made by a person of full age and capacity, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the applicant fulfils the requirements of Schedule 1 for naturalisation as such a citizen under this subsection, he may, if he thinks fit, grant to him a certificate of naturalisation as such a citizen.’


Paragraph 1(1) of schedule 1 to the BNA provides:


‘subject to paragraph 2, the requirements for naturalisation as a British citizen under section 6(1) are, in the case of any person who applies for it


(b) that he is of good character





The claimants are husband and wife. The wife is a stateless person born in Iraq on 15 August 1972, and the husband is an Iraqi national, born on 23 December 1961. The claimants were married in 2001, and had three children together. Both claimants have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.


The wife rose in status and responsibility from mere attendance at meetings to the giving of lectures to members. Her presence in Iraq became illegal after the fall of Saddam Hussein. She and her three children were subjected to the threats. The husband had reached the higher rank of Udw Firqa, that he would give lectures to low-ranking Ba’ath party members about the party’s aims and objectives, and that he was in charge of recruitment of new members within their local headquarters.


Persons were required to be a supporter of the Ba’th party in order to attend university and were also required to be a Ba’ath party member to work at a university, as the wife subsequently did. It was necessary for the husband to join the Ba’ath party in order to become approved as a teacher. The privileges the couple received were as a consequence of the wife’s work as a lecturer.




In this case, the Administrative Court dismissed the claim for judicial review of the defendant Secretary of State’s decision to refuse the claimants’ applications for naturalisation on the grounds that she had not been satisfied that the claimants, an Iraqi couple, had been of good character. By that decision, the defendant had concluded that ‘countervailing factors’ in the claimants’ personal circumstances and conduct, since entering the UK in 2008 and 2009, had not outweighed evidence that the claimants had ‘served as loyal and trusted members of the Ba’ath Party’. Among other things, the court held that:


  • the defendant had not been required by her own 2020 guidance, ‘Nationality: good character requirement – version 2’ (the Guidance), to consider whether the claimants’ had been responsible for, or had close associations with, war crimes or crimes against humanity;
  • the Guidance had specifically identified that ‘membership of a particular group may be sufficient’ to cast serious doubts on the claimants’ characters; and
  • the defendant had considered multiple mitigating circumstances relating to the claimants’ membership of the Ba’ath party, namely, the first claimant had belonged to the pan-Arab side of the party, membership had been obligatory for the claimants as a university lecturer and a teacher, and they had not been aware of any atrocities which had been committed by the party.


Our comments


It is for the claimant to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that they are of good character. When considering good character, it concerns but not only concerns: ‘criminality, international crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity, financial soundness, notoriety, deception and dishonesty, immigration-related matters and deprivation’. Previous crimes against humanity will adversely impact on naturalisation.


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