"his antagonism towards the local authority has made contact unachievable."
Two Indian children, aged 11 and nine, are in foster care in the UK. Local authorities want to change their citizenship status to British amid a legal row with their parents.
The case has now landed in the UK’s Court of Appeal.
In a judgement handed down by a three-judge bench on August 6, 2020, it was decided that the Birmingham Children’s Trust must seek the court’s approval before any attempt to apply for British citizenship for the children in the face of “parental opposition”.
The judges noted: “Changing a child’s citizenship is a momentous step with profound and enduring consequences that requires the most careful consideration.
“In the present case, the local authority would require leave to apply for the court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction… if it was in the children’s interests for them to become British citizens, there is reasonable cause to believe that they would be likely to be significantly harmed by that course not being pursued; the nature of the harm being their liability to removal from their lifelong home country on reaching adulthood.”
The case dates back to August 2015 when the children were removed from the care of their Indian-origin parents who came to the UK in 2004.
The reasons behind the children’s removal were not revealed. It was noted that contact with the parents has not taken place for nearly five years.
The court heard: “The mother left the UK in November 2015 while pregnant and now lives in Singapore. The father has remained in England, but his antagonism towards the local authority has made contact unachievable.”
As a result, the Indian children became the subject of placement orders or were to be put up for adoption.
However, the search for adoptive parents was unsuccessful and in December 2018, the local authority applied to discharge the placement orders.
The parents responded with an application to also discharge the underlying care orders in order to secure the children’s return to their care or to the care of family members in India or Singapore.
However, following a court ruling in December 2019, it was determined that the children must remain in long-term foster care for the remainder of their childhoods.
During the course of those proceedings, the Birmingham Children’s Trust stated it would look to secure the children’s immigration status by making applications for British citizenship.
This would remove their Indian nationality.
“Although these children had been in the care of the local authority for several years, no steps had been taken to regularise their immigration position.
“That is a matter of justified concern, even though there is no immediate threat of removal.”
The ruling stated that the children would benefit emotionally from their position being regularised and from being able to travel in and out of the country.
The ruling also gives the local authority the option to make a further application to the court to consider the Indian children’s’ citizenship issue.
“Depending upon expert advice, it [the application] may not need to be made as a matter of urgency, and consideration might be given to whether it should be taken at a time when the children would be more able to express their own views.
“That, of course, does not prevent an application being made now as it would be open to the court to approve an application being made at a later date.”
It was also noted that the hearings in the case have proved “challenging”, requiring interpreters.