Shamima Begum’s British citizenship should be restored, Court of Appeal hears

Shamima Begum’s British citizenship should be restored because she cannot have a “fair and effective appeal” against the government’s decision to strip her of it, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Begum, now 20, was one of three East London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) in February 2015. She lived under IS rule for more than three years. She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019. It prompted then home secretary Sajid Javid to revoke her British citizenship later that month.

In 2019, Begum took legal action against the Home Office at the High Court and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). The SIAC is a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone’s British citizenship on national security grounds.

In February 2020, SIAC ruled that the decision to revoke Begum’s British citizenship did not render her stateless, and was therefore lawful, as she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent” at the time of the decision. The tribunal also found that Begum “cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal [because of not being allowed in the UK] and, to that end, the appeal will not be fair and effective”. But it still ruled that her appeal of the decision to revoke her citizenship was unsuccessful. Begum’s challenge to the Home Office’s decision to refuse her entry to the UK, in order to effectively pursue her appeal, was also rejected.

Begum’s case

At a remote hearing of Begum’s case on Thursday 10 June, Tom Hickman QC said the key issue in her appeal was whether the absence of “a fair or effective means of challenging the decision to deprive her of her British citizenship” made the decision unlawful. He told the court:

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It is a basic principle of our law that executive decisions cannot stand where the requirements of natural justice are not complied with.

Hickman said that “in the present case there is a manifest breach of natural justice”, and that Begum’s appeal against the deprivation of her citizenship should be allowed because her appeal “cannot be pursued in a manner that satisfies even minimum requirements of fair procedure”.

He also said that Sajid Javid had been informed that Begum could not have a fair or effective appeal when he took the decision to revoke her British citizenship. Hickman said Begum’s case was “the first case in which SIAC has held that an appellant cannot have a fair and effective appeal”.

He added that, nonetheless, SIAC had denied Begum leave to enter the UK in order to challenge the decision to revoke her British citizenship. Furthermore, it had “suggested… that the appellant’s appeal might have to be stayed indefinitely or even struck out altogether”. Hickman said:

In other words… the consequence of the appellant not being able to have a fair and effective appeal means that the Secretary of State’s decision stands indefinitely and possibly forever without there ever having been a judicial decision on the merits [of Begum’s appeal].

That, we say, piles unfairness upon unfairness and is wrong in law.

Hickman pointed out that Begum, who remains in the al-Roj camp in Syria, was only 15 when she left the UK, saying: “She had not even taken her GCSE exams”. He added:

The only things that are clear are that Shamima Begum was a child when she left the UK and had been influenced to do so.

Shamima Begum Court of Appeal case
(left to right) Kadiza Sultana, then 16, and Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both then 15, going through security at Gatwick Airport in 2015 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The Home Office’s arguments

James Eadie QC, representing the Home Office, said in written submissions:

The fact that the appellant could not fully engage with the statutory appeal procedure was a result of her decision to leave the UK, travel to Syria against Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and align with ISIL.

This led to her being held in conditions akin to detention in a foreign state at the hands of a third party, the Syrian Defence Force.

It was not the result of any action by the Secretary of State and the deprivation decision did not have any causative impact on the appellant in this respect.

Eadie added that Begum had been able to speak to her lawyers, and argued:

the fact that it might not be possible to mirror the level of access to legal advice that would be available if someone were at liberty in the UK does not mean the proceedings are unfair.

Begum was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families to join IS.  Begum claims she married Dutch convert Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in IS territory, with all three of her schoolfriends also reportedly marrying foreign IS fighters. She told the Times in February 2019 that she left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband but her children, a one-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy, had both since died. Her third child died shortly after he was born.

The two-day hearing before Lord Justice Flaux, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh is being live-streamed on the judiciary’s YouTube channel. It’s expected that the Court of Appeal will reserve its judgment to a later date.

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