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Supreme Court delivers judgment in leading case on principles of statutory interpretation


The Supreme Court has today given judgment refusing the claimants’ appeals in R (O and Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2022] UKSC 3, the high-profile appeal concerning the fees charged to children applying to register as British citizens. Nicholas Chapman represented the Home Secretary.

The Appellants, led by the campaigning group Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, argued that the fees of over £1,000 as fixed in secondary legislation were unaffordable to many children and so rendered nugatory the underlying statutory right to register as a British citizen as conferred by the British Nationality Act 1981, and were therefore ultra vires. The Appellants also contended that the rule identified in R v Secretary of State for Social Security, Ex p Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants [1997] 1 WLR (“JCWI”) operated as a bar to secondary legislation cutting down statutory rights conferred in an earlier statute. Finally, the Appellants argued that the special rule of statutory interpretation explained by the Supreme Court in R (UNISON) v Lord Chancellor [2020] AC 869 applies in the case of all important statutory rights, including the right to British citizenship.

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected these arguments. Lord Hodge gave the leading judgment. Lady Arden gave a concurring judgment.

In doing so, the Court:

• explained and developed the principles governing the process of statutory interpretation
• identified and explained the true principle underlying the judgment in JCWI and subsequent cases
• explained the principles to be applied where Parliament has empowered the executive to make subordinate legislation impinging upon and even removing rights conferred by earlier statute
• confirmed that the special rule of interpretation identified in UNISON is limited to those rights which are truly fundamental or constitutional.

Nicholas Chapman was led by Sir James Eadie QC.

The judgment can be found below.
The press summary can be found here: https://www.supremecourt.uk/press-summary/uksc-2021-0062.html

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