Can a Drink Driving Offence Affect My Naturalisation Application?

Can a Drink Driving Offence Affect My Naturalisation Application?

As with many areas of law, the question of whether a drink driving offence can affect an application for British Citizenship depends on the circumstances and the timing.  A key requirement that must be met by those applying for naturalisation in the UK is that they must be of ‘good character’. 

What is meant by ‘good character’?

The British Nationality Act 1981 (the Act), section 41, states that British Citizenship “must not be granted unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the adult or young person is of good character”.  Unfortunately, the Act does not elaborate on what is mean by ‘good character’, however, the Government does provide extensive guidance.  The Home Office’s ‘Nationality: good character requirement’ states that “a person will not normally be considered to be of good character if there is information to suggest that any of the following apply”.  The list of factors provided includes criminality. 

Another factor that may be relevant when assessing good character is that of ‘notoriety’.  The Home Office guidance states that drinking is not normally, in isolation, relevant to assessing good character, however, case officers are advised that “where there is evidence that a person has, by the scale and persistence of their behaviour, made themselves [the applicant] notorious in their local or the wider community, you must consider refusing the application. This may for example be evidenced through media reporting, items on social media, or information provided by members of the public.  However, you must be careful not to give credence to comments that are intended to be defamatory or malicious”.  While notoriety is a consideration for case officers, refusal on this basis will only apply with the most extreme of criminal behaviours.

Do I have to disclose all driving offences?

It is important to disclose all criminal offences, regardless of type and severity.  The guidance provided for the form used to apply for naturalisation (form AN), specifically states:

“You must give details of all criminal convictions both within and outside the UK.

These include road traffic offences.   Fixed penalty notices (such as speeding or parking tickets) must be disclosed, although will not normally be taken into account unless:

  • you have failed to pay and there were criminal proceedings as a result
  • you received 3 or more fixed penalty notices at any level
  • in the past 3 years, you received 2 or more fixed penalty notices, at least one

of which was at the upper levels (fine of £200 or more)”.

In relation to drink driving specifically, the guidance clarifies that drink driving offences must be declared on the British Citizenship application, and that a driving conviction may not be disregarded despite any penalty points being removed from your driving licence”.

What if my drink driving offence occurred many years ago?

It is true that under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, some criminal offences are considered ‘spent’ after a period of time, and, therefore, do not have to be declared in relation to some matters (such as when applying for a job).  Unfortunately, this does not apply in the area of immigration law.  As such, all offences, no matter how old or if they are ‘spent’ must be declared.  Home Office guidance for case officers on this matter states, “Applicants are required to disclose all convictions, regardless of whether or not they are ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (1974 Act). You may take into account any past convictions regardless of when they took place, as nationality decisions are exempt from section 4 of the 1974 Act that provides for certain convictions to become ‘spent’ after fixed periods of time”.

Will my application for British Citizenship be refused due to a drink driving offence?

While the Home Office will take into account all offences, including those that are ‘spent’, this does not mean that all applications which mention criminality will be refused.  What matters is the length of the sentence and the amount of time between the date of the application and the end of the sentence.  The case officer determining your application will use the following guidance (from page 21 of form AN ) to determine if your drink driving offence should be disregarded:

;

Sentence

Impact

Four years’ or more imprisonment

The application will normally be refused, regardless of when the conviction occurred.

Between 12 months’ and four years’ imprisonment

The application will normally be refused unless 15 years have passed since the end of the sentence.

Up to 12 months’ imprisonment

Applications will normally be refused unless ten years have passed since the end of the sentence.

A non-custodial sentence or other out of court disposal that is recorded on a person’s criminal record

Applications will normally be refused if the conviction occurred in the last three years

It is important to note that the end of the sentence does not relate to the amount of actual time in custody, but rather to the total amount of the sentence imposed by the judge.  For example, a person sentenced to three years in jail for drink driving on 1/1/2013 will normally be refused British Citizenship until 1/1/2031 – this is the 15 years plus the three-year sentence.

Final words

It may be that the best course of action for some applicants is simply to wait until their drink driving offence sentence (whether custodial or not) passes the time threshold provided by the Home Office guidance.  In any event, do not be tempted not to disclose a drink driving offence, as doing so may lead to an automatic refusal on the basis of a failure to disclose all relevant convictions.  And if this does happen, you may then be refused for any future applications for British citizenship for the next ten years.  If you are concerned that your drink driving offence may cause your application for citizenship to be refused, seek legal advice from immigration solicitors before you do anything.  Doing so will provide you with the best chance of securing British citizenship for you and your family. 

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