Age of reasons for immigrants

Home Secretary Michael Howard has suffered his fair share of defeats at the hands of the courts recently, as his decisions in a range of areas have been overturned by judges.

Few of those defeats, however, have been more widely publicised than the recent case in which the Home Office was told to reconsider its refusal of British naturalisation for Harrods boss Mohamed Fayed and his brother Ali.

Fayed has made no secret of his belief that the Government is guilty of victimisation in its attitude towards him and his brother. The day after the ruling photographs of Fayed with a giant passport with a question mark over the coat of arms were everywhere in the media. The brothers left no doubt that, with the prospect of an appeal to the House of Lords still on the cards, they are very much on the offensive.

The Fayeds were represented by different firms of solicitors, Laurence Harris and Ann Robson of DJ Freeman for Mohamed Fayed, and Michael Palmer of Palmer Cowan for Ali Fayed. Michael Beloff QC, one of the country's most experienced counsel in judicial review matters represented both brothers, with Rabinder Singh and Mark Shaw acting as juniors.

With such a strong team fielded before the relatively newly appointed Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, and Lords Justices Phillips and Kennedy, the case was one which was bound to result in a landmark ruling, says Harris.

He believes that as one of the first major judgments to be given by Lord Woolf in his new office, it has gone some way to setting the seal on what might be expected in the future of the new Master of the Rolls and has left no doubt about his robust, no-nonsense approach.

The Fayeds argued that they had been treated unfairly in that they had been given no reasons for their applications being turned down.

Lord Woolf agreed that, despite the provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981, which says that the Home Secretary is not obliged to give reasons for refusing naturalisation applications, the Fayeds had been treated unfairly.

He said: "Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done and it has not been seen to be done in relation to the applications of the Fayeds.

"They have not had the fairness to which they are entitled and the rule of law must be upheld."

With moves to take the case to the House of Lords it will now be 1997 before we know whether the Appeal Court ruling will be upheld.

But if it is, the effects are bound to force a re-think in strategy on the part of the Home Office when dealing with immigration matters and have wide-ranging implications in respect of the 400 or so naturalisation applications that are dealt with every year.

The case being fought by the Fayeds will have implications for many others far less able than them to pursue litigation, but who are seeking citizenship and who have been denied reasons for the refusal of their applications.

"The guidelines given in this case will apply in almost every situation where the executive is taking a decision. They will be wide ranging within the immigration field," says Harris.