Is the Abandoned Baby British?
When I come in to the office in the mornings, I’m usually very early and tend to start the day by making a coffee and skimming the news headlines. This morning, my eyes were drawn to the heart breaking headline about a newborn baby who was found abandoned in a towel on a park bench in London.
When speaking about the story to colleagues, the Partner I report to in the immigration team overheard our discussion and asked what we thought was a very odd and unusual question - what nationality is the baby?
Given that the abandoned baby has no identified parents, no birth certificate and no indication of where she came from, how would the UK authorities deal with her visa and nationality status? Perhaps an unusual question to ask, but perhaps a very appropriate one given the news in recent weeks and months has been dominated by stories about people needing to produce the correct visa and residency paperwork to live in the UK.
I, like so many people, would have thought that the abandonment of babies in public places is something so uncommon in the modern world that the law dealing with such scenarios would be rather scant or more likely, well out of date. However that is not the case in relation to British nationality law which caters very clearly – and very fairly - for this type of scenario.
In terms of British nationality law, the onus always lies on the person claiming it to prove that they are indeed entitled to it. In the normal course of things, those born in the UK may be regarded as British if they can prove that they are eligible for it – a status that is usually based on their parentage. For instance, someone born in the UK to a British parent would usually be British, and would be expected to prove their birth in the UK (usually with a birth certificate) and that their parent is British.
Obviously for an abandoned baby, there is no paperwork to show their birth in the UK or their parentage – and certainly nothing to show the nationality or residency status of their parent(s).
To cater for this, the British Nationality Act 1981 has very specific provisions that humanely deal with this scenario. The law states that any new-born infant who is found abandoned in the UK will, unless something disproves it, be regarded as having been born in Britain to a British parent and therefore will be recognised automatically a British national.
Interestingly, there does not seem to be an agreed definition of “new-born” in terms of age. This would usually be interpreted very broadly and whilst there is room for discretion, lawmakers envisaged that it would apply to those who are no more than a few months old.
So, to answer the question I was asked early this morning over my coffee, the law is clear that the abandoned baby is deemed to be British unless something indicates otherwise. The only thing could really indicate otherwise is if the parents are located and they are not British nationals.
It is good to see that the lawmakers have provided clarity for this type of scenario, no matter how unusual it is. With whatever challenges the little baby girl faces, concerns over her visa, residency or nationality status will thankfully not be one of them.
Demi Bennett is a Trainee Solicitor currently working with Jamie Kerr, a specialist immigration & nationality lawyer at Burness Paull.
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