‘Good character’ test for Windrush passport applications unlawful, judge rules

Tess de la Mare, PA
·4-min read

A member of the Windrush generation repeatedly refused citizenship due to minor criminal convictions has posthumously won his case against the Home Office for refusing to waive its “good character” requirement.

Hubert Howard came to the UK from Jamaica in 1960 when he was three years old and would have been entitled to citizenship via a simple registration process until the law changed suddenly in 1988.

Applications by Mr Howard for a UK passport in 2007, 2010 and 2014 failed and in late 2018 he was again refused citizenship on the basis he did not meet the good character requirement applied to all non-UK nationals.

This was despite provisions in then-home secretary Amber Rudd’s Windrush statement to the House of Commons in April 2018 stating those who had come to the UK from Commonwealth countries prior to 1973 were “British in all but legal status”.

She said all members of the group should be able “to acquire the status they deserve – British citizenship – quickly, at no cost and with proactive assistance throughout the process”.

Ms Rudd added: “Anyone from the Windrush generation who now wants to become a British national will be able to do so”.

Windrush generation immigration controversy
Home Secretary Amber Rudd makes the Windrush statement in the Houses of Parliament in April 2018 (PA)

But following her resignation, incoming home secretary Sajid Javid made the decision that the good character requirement should continue to apply to the Windrush generation.

Mr Howard, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2014, was only granted citizenship on compassionate grounds three weeks before his death in November 2019 at the age of 62.

His daughter Maresha Howard Rose took on his High Court claim that the Home Office’s scheme to help members of the Windrush generation obtain British citizenship is unlawful due to the continued application of the good character requirement.

The good character requirement applies to all non-UK nationals unless they have relevant “other” status.

Lawyers for Ms Howard Rose argued that as a member of the Windrush generation who could have obtained British nationality by registration prior to January 1988, Mr Howard had the necessary status.

In a ruling handed down on Friday, Mr Justice Swift stated Mr Javid’s decision “fell outside the range of options available to him acting reasonably”.

Justice Swift said: “There is a mismatch, a lack of logical connection, between that decision and the approach to Windrush generation applications announced in the Windrush statement and then made good on every other matter relevant to a naturalisation application.

“On all other matters, it was clear from the Windrush statement that particular importance would now be attached to the long-residence and integration of the Windrush generation.”

Phillippa Kaufmann QC, for Ms Howard Rose, said her client’s father was one of “a number of individuals who were part of the Windrush generation who have been caught in the Home Office’s hostile environment”.

Ms Kaufmann said this was due to a conviction for common assault after an incident at his doctor’s surgery the previous March, but also for minor theft and drug offences dating back to the 1970s.

He was handed a 12 months suspended sentence for an incident in which he grabbed paperwork from the receptionist’s hands “and, in the process, grabbed her middle finger”.

The final time his citizenship application was rejected, Mr Howard was told three offences for burglary and theft between 1974 and 1977 that resulted in probation orders had been taken into account, as well as fines for three offences of possession of a class B drug between 1984 and 1988.

Noting the minor nature of Mr Howard’s earlier convictions, Mr Justice Swift said: “An approach based on the premise that such matters are relevant is in flat contradiction of any notion that long-residence and integration into British society demanded a different approach to applications coming from the Windrush generation, the notion which had been the central feature of the Windrush statement.”

He added: “For these reasons the decision in early May 2018 to continue to apply the existing good character guidance to applications for naturalisation as British citizens made by members of the Windrush generation was unlawful.

“It follows that the determination of Mr Howard’s application on that basis was also unlawful.”

The High Court heard that in 2012, Mr Howard’s troubles obtaining a passport cost him his job as a caretaker for housing organisation the Peabody Trust.

His employers described Mr Howard as “reliable, hardworking and diligent in carrying out his duties” but said following an inspection by the Immigration Services “(he) was unable to produce a passport and we had to let him go”.

Mr Howard was also forced to miss his mother’s funeral in Jamaica because he did not know if he would be able to return to the UK.