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Naturalisation as a British Citizen – A wide discretion

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission has given an open judgment in relation to the statutory review of decisions by the Secretary of State to refuse applications for citizenship by relatives of Bashar Al-Assad, in the case of LA, MA, RA, SAA v Secretary of State for the Home Department SN/63, 64, 65 and 67/2015.

Section 6(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 gives the Secretary of State the discretion to grant a certificate of naturalisation to a person who fulfils the requirements, ‘if he thinks fit’.

This blog post focuses on the public interest aspects of the Secretary of State’s discretion.


LA is married to Refaat Al-Assad, the paternal uncle of Bashar Al-Assad, brother to Hafez Al-Assad. MA and SAA are their sons. RA is Refaat Al-Assad’’s son from another marriage. LA, SAA and RA made applications to naturalise as British Citizens. MA (a minor) made an application to register as a British Citizen.

LA’s  application was refused on 3 January 2017, over 3 years after her application was made. During this time, her solicitors requested information regarding the delay and to be informed of the gist of any concerns relating to the application so that the applicant could respond. LA’s application was refused in accordance with the Nationality Instructions which allowed refusal of citizenship on the basis that it would not be in the public interest. The decision stated:

“You are the wife of Refaat Al-Assad, the uncle of President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria. Although widely reported as estranged from Bashar Al-Assad, Refaat is the brother of Hafez Al-Assad (the late former president of Syria). Refaat was a well- known and prominent member of his brother’s regime during the 1970s and 1980s

– a regime that is widely held to have committed crimes against humanity.

Although it is not possible to assess the exact nature of your current relationship with Bashar Al-Assad and the Syrian regime, it is noted that the regime has become inextricably linked over the last few decades with the extended Assad family.

The UK plays a prominent and leading role in Syria. It is a key member of the Syria Support Group and leads at the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council to secure resolutions that condemn regime activity against civilians.

In light of the above the Home Secretary has determined that to grant you a certificate of naturalisation would have an adverse impact on the UK’s international relations and therefore it would not be in the public interest to grant you British Citizenship. “

The other applications were refused on public interest grounds with similar reasons. MA’s application was also refused in accordance with the guidance on the basis that his future did not clearly lie in the UK and there were no grounds to exceptionally exercise discretion in his favour.

The refusal decisions

The Home Office requested advice from the FCO regarding the applications. The FCO recommended refusal based on the applicants’ links to the Assad regime. It made it clear that it had insufficient information to assess the exact nature of their relationships to Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. However, it emphasised that the extended Assad family and the regime had become ‘inextricably intertwined’.

A submission was made to the Secretary of State on the basis of the FCO information. This advised that LA and RA met the statutory requirements but MA and SAA did not. It recommended that the Secretary of State should refuse citizenship to all of them due to the ‘damage likely to be caused to the UK’s foreign policy aims, credibility and international relations due to the predicted reaction of the Syrian opposition and other international partners‘. Family members of Assad were likely to be perceived as close associates of his regime and granting them citizenship would not be in the public interest ‘due to the signal this would send to the Syrian opposition and other international partners, resulting in damage to the UK’s international relations’… READ FULL ARTICLE