Privy Council delivers landmark ruling on citizenship

Privy Council delivers landmark ruling on citizenship

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — In a landmark decision, the UK-based Privy Council has ruled that children born out of wedlock in The Bahamas to foreign women and Bahamian men are citizens at birth and do not have to wait until the age of 18 to apply for citizenship.

The Privy Council’s ruling upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, which had upheld an earlier decision of Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder, now Chief Justice Sir Ian Winder. In that ruling it was determined that children born in The Bahamas are automatically citizens if either parent is a Bahamian. In particular, the ruling stated that children born out of wedlock to Bahamian fathers are automatically citizens, even if their mother is non-Bahamian.

The case before the Privy Council’s involved Shannon Tyreck Rolle and four others who were born in The Bahamas and claimed that their biological fathers are citizens of The Bahamas but their mothers are not. Their parents were also not married at the dates of their births. The respondents had sought declarations from the Supreme Court of The Bahamas that they are entitled to citizenship of The Bahamas pursuant to Article 6 of the Constitution.

Article 6 states: “Every person born in The Bahamas after 9th July 1973 shall become a citizen of The Bahamas at the date of his birth if at that date either of his parents is a citizen of The Bahamas.” Further, Article 14(1) which was also highlighted in the case states: “Any reference in this chapter to the father of a person shall, in relation to any person born out of wedlock other than a person legitimated before 10th July 1973, be construed as a reference to the mother of that person.”

Addressing the interpretation of Article 6 of the constitution the Privy Council noted: “If one takes as a starting point the natural meaning of Article 6 it appears to be an uncomplicated provision expressed in wide and generous terms. At first sight it appears to confer citizenship of The Bahamas at birth on every person born in The Bahamas after 9 July 1973 if at the date of the person’s birth either of his parents is a citizen of The Bahamas. Furthermore, on a straightforward reading the reference to “parents” would seem to refer to the person’s biological parents. The provision addresses a person’s status at birth. At that time there can only be biological parents; at that time there can be no adoptive parents or psychological parents.”

The Privy Council ultimately concluded that the reference to “parents” in Article 6 is a reference to biological parents and that article 14(1) of the constitution does not import a requirement of legitimacy into Article 6. Further, the Privy Council also concluded that the Constitution of The Bahamas confers citizenship of The Bahamas at birth on a person born in The Bahamas who is the child of (1) an unmarried woman who is not a citizen of The Bahamas and (2) a man who is.

In a statement responding to the Privy Council’s ruling, Prime Minister Philip Davis, who is presently in London for the coronation of King Charles III, said: “I would like to express my support and commitment to ensuring that our country’s laws and policies are fair and just for all Bahamians. This ruling affirms that children born out of wedlock in The Bahamas to biological Bahamian fathers and foreign mothers are citizens of The Bahamas at birth and do not have to wait until 18 years old to apply for citizenship.

“The Privy Council’s decision marks an important step towards ensuring equal citizenship rights for all children, irrespective of their parent’s marital status,” Davis continued. “It is expected to impact the lives of many individuals in our nation positively.

As Prime Minister, I am dedicated to building a more inclusive and equitable Bahamas. My government will work diligently to implement the Privy Council’s decision and review the existing citizenship legislation to align with this new development.”

Attorney General Ryan Pinder likewise called the ruling an “important step towards ensuring equal citizenship rights” in a statement. “The Attorney General’s Office will work diligently to ensure the implementation of the Privy Council’s decision and to review the existing citizenship legislation in light of this new development.”

He added: “We would also like to take this opportunity to remind the public that the government remains committed to addressing other citizenship issues, including granting automatic citizenship to children born abroad to married Bahamian women and their foreign husbands. The government will continue its efforts to create a fair and just citizenship framework for all Bahamians.”