Passports can be issued to British children abroad without abusive father’s consent (April, 2016)

Her Majesty’s Passport Office was wrong to insist on signed consent for child passports from an abusive father, the High Court has held in R (GA & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] EWHC 868 (Admin). 

British children refused passports

The claimants were a British mother (GA) and her four British children. The children are all under 16. Their names are anonymised, as is “Country X” where the children live.

GA met a man from Country X, moved there, married him, and had her first three children there. Country X is a patriarchal society in which fathers are recognised as the sole holders of parental responsibility and single women under the age of 40 are treated as legal minors.

The man subjected GA to severe physical and emotional abuse. He admitted causing her bodily harm in the course of criminal proceedings in Country X. During those proceedings he gave written permission for the children to travel with their mother outside of Country X. GA wanted to bring her children to the UK to escape her abuser.

GA applied for British passports for her children. In lieu of signed consent from both parents, she provided an explanation of the situation the family found itself in. The Passport Office declined to process the application until the abusive father’s consent was obtained. GA later submitted the father’s written permission for the children to travel, but the Passport Office decision-maker took the view that it did not specifically provide consent to passports being issued.

Why was consent necessary?

The Passport Office’s position was that consent for the issuance of a passport was required from a person with parental responsibility for the child. Applying the 1996 Hague Convention, parental responsibility is determined by the law of the country where the children are habitually resident: Country X. According to a country profile drawn up internally by the Passport Office, and as mentioned above, Country X gives sole parental responsibility to the father. The mother’s consent was irrelevant. This is unlike the legal position in the UK, where the mother automatically has parental responsibility for the child from birth.

Passport Office found to have acted irrationally

Ultimately the case turned on whether, in light of the father’s letter of consent to travel given during the criminal proceedings, the law of Country X gave GA authority to apply for British passports on behalf of her children. Chamberlain J found that it did.

The claimants succeeded in establishing that the Passport Office decision was vitiated (to vitiate: to destroy or impair the legal validity of) by a public law error of irrationality. There was no rational evidential basis for concluding that, under the law of Country X, the father had to consent to the passport applications in this case. This finding was enough for the court to issue an order quashing the decision not to issue the passports.

Posted on Apr 16, 2021.

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