ECtHR - Ramadan v Malta

Egyptian national, who was granted the ability to revoke his Egyptian citizenship, was deprived of his Maltese citizenship years later after the State’s decision that he had obtained his Maltese citizenship from his first marriage through fraud. The Court found that there was no Article 8 violation, holding that the decision to deprive the applicant of his Maltese citizenship did not adversely affect him as a stateless individual, as the decision complied with the law and the applicant had opportunities to seek redress for any potential issues that would arise as a result of the State’s actions.

Case status
Decided
Case number
Application no. 76136/12
Citation
Ramadan v Malta, judgment, application no. 76136/12, 21 June 2016.
Date of decision
State
Court / UN Treaty Body
European Court of Human Rights
Language(s) the decision is available in
English
French
Applicant's country of birth
Egypt
Applicant's country of residence
Malta
Relevant Legislative Provisions

Domestic: Article 44 of the Constitution of Malta, The Maltese Citizenship Act, Chapter 188 of the Laws of Malta, Article 14 of the Immigration Act, Chapter 217 of the Laws of Malta, Immigration Regulations: Subsidiary Legislation 217.04; Regulations 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10; and Regulation 12(3)

Council of Europe: Article 8 ECHR, 1997 European Convention on Nationality (signed but not ratified by Malta), Recommendation No. R (99) 18 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the avoidance and reduction of statelessness

European Union: Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)

Facts

The applicant was an Egyptian citizen who arrived in Malta on a tourist visa, which he overstayed after remaining for more than 3 months. He sought exempt person status after marrying his first wife, a Maltese citizen, which was granted by the State. Since dual citizenship with Malta and Egypt was not possible at the time of his application, he was granted his request to renounce Egyptian citizenship and have it withdrawn. After a period of marital and mental health problems, his first marriage was annulled. The applicant did not inform state authorities of this change in his marital status.

The applicant remained in Malta and married his second wife, a Russian citizen. When seeking information about exempt person status for his second wife, he submitted a form to state authorities, demonstrating the annulment of his first marriage. It was at this point that the State first learned of the applicant’s marital and citizenship status. His second wife was granted exempt status, which was granted due to the applicant’s citizenship status.

Two years later, the applicant was issued a notification of an order depriving him of his Maltese citizenship on grounds that his first marriage constituted fraud. A state commission issued a recommendation for deprivation of his citizenship after proceedings. This recommendation would require the return of the applicant’s Maltese citizenship documentation and passport. No state action was taken in regards to this decision, however.

Following proceedings in the domestic court, the applicant brought a case against the State, alleging a violation of his Article 8 rights. The government objected that the applicant’s petition to the Court was inadmissible on two grounds: 1) the applicant did not qualify as a “victim”; and 2) the applicant was not placed at a significant disadvantage.

Decision & Reasoning

Admissibility

The Court accepted the government’s first objection but rejected their second objection. The applicant was not a victim due to a violation of Article 8 in regards to deportation, but he was a victim regarding the revocation of his Maltese citizenship.

Victim Status

The Court held that “an applicant cannot claim to be the ‘victim’ of a deportation measure if the measure is not enforceable”, which applies “in cases where execution of the deportation order has been stayed indefinitely or otherwise deprived of legal effect, and where any decision by the authorities to proceed with deportation can be appealed against before the relevant courts”. § 53. Since no interim orders were in place and the applicant could still appeal, the Court found that “there is no indication that any eventual removal would be executed in a perfunctory manner and with such haste that it would have the effect of rendering the available remedies ineffective in practice and therefore inaccessible”. § 55. Thus, the Court held the applicant was not a victim in this regard.

The Court also held that, since the applicant was stateless, “it cannot be said that he is under a threat of expulsion”, given the unlikelihood of his return to Egypt even if so, the amount of time during which he’d be able to appeal. § 56.                

Significant Disadvantage

The Court held that “although the right to citizenship is not as such guaranteed by the Convention or its Protocols, it cannot be ruled out that an arbitrary denial of citizenship might in certain circumstances raise an issue under Article 8 of the Convention because of the impact of such a denial on the private life of the individual”. § 62.  

Merits

The Court held that “the loss of citizenship already acquired . . . can have the same (and possibly a bigger) impact on a person’s private and family life. It follows that there is no reason to distinguish between the two situations and the same test should therefore apply. Thus, an arbitrary revocation of citizenship might in certain circumstances raise an issue under Article 8 of the Convention because of its impact on the private life of the individual”. § 85. The Court found that the decision here was done in accordance with the law and adhered to procedural safeguards, as the applicant was notified and had opportunity to seek a remedy. § 87.  Though the Government’s actions could be seen as delayed, any delay in time did not adversely affect the applicant. § 88. Therefore, the State’s decision was not arbitrary.

The Court also found that the applicant was not adversely affected by the State’s decision. It held that neither Article 8 nor any other provision of the Convention can be construed as guaranteeing the right to a particular type of residence permit. § 91. Other remedies or opportunities for citizenship status were found to be available to the applicant, which he failed to try to pursue. § 91.

Furthermore, the Court found that the applicant did not provide official documentation showing renunciation of his Egyptian citizenship, nor did he present any issues with re-acquiring his Egyptian citizenship. Therefore, the applicant was found to, in effect, not be stateless: “the fact that a foreigner has renounced his or her nationality of a State does not mean in principle that another State has the obligation to regularise his or her stay in the country”. § 92.

Outcome

Admissibility

The Court found that the application regarding the revocation of the applicant’s citizenship was admissible, but the remainder of the claims were not.

Merits

The Court found that there was no violation of Article 8. Since the applicant was found not to be at risk of deportation, the Court held that the State had no positive obligation regarding the applicant’s rights under Article 8 as it arose in this case. § 94.

Dissents

Several of the justices dissented, writing separate opinions, from the majority’s decision.

Caselaw cited

Rottmann v. Freistaat Bayern, 2 March 2010, CJEU, C-135/08 [2010] ECR II-05089

Gerardo Ruiz Zambrano v. Office national de l’emploi (ONEm), 8 March 2011, CJEU, C-34/09 [2011] ECR I-01177

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Sisojeva and Others, cited above, § 91

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