Status of Latvian Russians a matter for Minister
HIGH COURT JUDGMENT:Spila Ors -v- Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Ors
Neutral citation (2012) IEHC 336.
Judgment was delivered on July 31st, 2012, by Mr Justice John Cooke.
The complex issue of the possible status of Latvians of Russian origin, who had sought Irish citizenship, must be decided definitively by the Minister in the first instance before it could be judicially reviewed.
A refusal of citizenship had no legal consequences which required that it be judicially reviewed when the possibility of making a new application was available.
The applicants in the case were a mother and two of her daughters, who were ethnic Russians but had been born and lived in Latvia until they came to Ireland in 1999.
On their application for naturalisation, they had filled in their nationality as “Latvian (ethnic Russian)”. Their passports were issued by the Republic of Latvia and bore the description “Alien Passport”.
In March 2009, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) wrote to them stating that the Minister had decided not to grant them certificates of naturalisation. It pointed out there was no appeals process, but they could reapply for a certificate at any time and, in this context, they should note the reasons given for the refusal.
These were for availing of social welfare support as applicants for naturalisation, apart from refugees and stateless persons, are required to demonstrate that they are capable of supporting themselves.
In June 2009 the solicitor for the applicants wrote to the INIS stating that all three would be categorised as stateless persons and that this information did not appear to have brought about a reconsideration of their applications.
Extensive expert and legal opinion was brought before the court to demonstrate the complex status of ethnic Russians in Latvia following that country’s independence from Russia in 1991.
In 1995, a law was adopted which created the status of “Latvian non-citizen”. They are not allowed to vote or to hold office.
Mr Justice Cooke said that the court was not deciding on this complex issue, but alluded to the extensive expert evidence to demonstrate the complexity and delicacy of the issue, which had been considered by the UN Human Rights Committee and by the European Court of Human Rights.
When the applications for naturalisation were made the Minister was not asked explicitly to consider whether they were stateless in any sense.
They declared themselves to be of Latvian nationality with the qualification of “ethnic Russian” origin. It was only after the decision was received that they asserted their status as stateless persons.
The question of whether or not they were stateless is first and foremost a matter for the Minister. His decision is based on policy and is not one that can be judged by the High Court.
The decisions which are sought to be challenged in the judicial review were not made on the basis of the information and evidence now sought to be relied on by the applicants.
It was inappropriate that the court should usurp the role of the Minister by deciding on a matter on the basis of information that he did not have before him when he made his decision.
The refusal decision had explicitly stated the applicants could make a new application if they felt there was a misunderstanding or had a disagreement with the reasons for the refusal.
This was a case where it was clearly appropriate to make a new application, incorporating all the information they had brought before the court. That remained open to them. A judicial review was therefore not appropriate.
For all these reasons, a judicial review was unnecessary and unfounded.
The full judgment is on courts.ie
Feichín McDonagh SC and Siobhán Phelan BL, instructed by Con O’Leary Co, Leixlip, for the applicants; Siobhán Stack BL, instructed by the Chief State Solicitor, for the respondent.