The Supreme Court has reserved judgment on a significant appeal concerning the lawfulness of the process under which Irish citizenship can be revoked.
Some 40 cases are awaiting the outcome of the appeal by Ali Damache, a native of Algeria who became a naturalised Irish citizen in 2008.
He is serving a sentence in the US after pleading guilty in October 2018 to having conspired to materially assist a terrorist group.
The appeal arises from an October 2018 notice served on Mr Damache from the Minister for Justice and Equality of intent to revoke his Irish citizenship on the basis of having shown disloyalty to the State.
The case centres on the lawfulness of the procedure to revoke citizenship set out under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, specifically section 19 of the Act.
The issues centre on the process around citizenship revocation, procedural safeguards and consequences of loss of citizenship on other rights.
The appeal was heard by a five judge court via video-link on Tuesday and the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, said the court was reserving judgment to a later date.
In submissions, Sunniva McDonagh SC, for Mr Damache, argued the procedure leading to revocation breaches the rights to natural justice, fair procedures, involves reasonable apprehension of prejudgment by the Minister and does not involve an independent decision maker.
She said the revocation procedure is instigated by the Minister who sends a letter indicating an intent to revoke citizenship in three months on the basis of being satisfied one of the conditions of section 19 is met.
While the Minister argued that was just a proposal, there has been a decision by the Minister he is satisfied Mr Damache has shown disloyalty to the State, she said.
It was also argued Mr Damache can apply to a three person committee of inquiry to inquire into the Minister’s reasons for initiating the revocation procedure but the findings of that inquiry are not binding on the Minister and there is no appeal, she said.
This meant the same person, the Minister, instigates the revocation procedure and decides the outcome having considered the non-binding report of the committee, she said.
Revocation of citizenship is of the “utmost gravity” for a citizen and therefore attracts a very high level of procedural fairness, she said.
This appeal was about the fairness of the procedure, not whether a revocation decision is correct, she said.
Mr Damache had pleaded guilty to a conspiracy offence to avoid a 40-45 year prison term, she said. While he is serving a long term, he has significant ties in Europe and revocation of his Irish citizenship would mean he would be unable to visit his children in France on release, she said
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission was involved in the appeal as an amicus curiae, assistant to the court on legal issues. Its counsel Siobhán Phelan SC argued a high degree of procedural safeguards are required around the Ministerial decision-making to revoke Irish citizenship. That could be achieved either by judicial remedy or establishment of a sufficient independent court or tribunal, she said.
Opposing the appeal, Siobhán Stack SC, for the Minister and State, argued the challenge is premature as no decision on revocation has been made.
The revocation procedure did not involve the administration of justice and court participation was thus not involved, she said. Section 19 confers a statutory power on the Minister, he is authorised to exercise it, and can do so by altering the legal status of a person or body in the same way that revoking a licence or refugee status alters the status of that entity or person, counsel said. There is a facility for inquiry chaired by a person with judicial experience, she added.
Section 19 is “sufficiently laconic” to be interpreted as constitutional, she also argued.