Shamima Begum was 15 when she travelled to Syria, with two other teenage friends, and ultimately married a member of Daesh. In 2019 the Home Secretary stripped her of her citizenship, a decision her lawyers have sought to challenge.
The UK Supreme Court (UKSC) has ruled that the schoolgirl who joined Daesh in Syria should not be allowed to return to Britain.
The unanimous ruling reversed findings by the Court of Appeal that Shamima Begum was denied the right of an effective appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision to strip her of her citizenship, by refusing her entry into the country in order to challenge the decision.
“[T]he Court of Appeal misunderstood the scope of an appeal against a decision of the Secretary of State to refuse a person leave to enter the UK”, the UKSC said, adding that, “Ms Begum’s appeal against the [decision to refuse her entry to the UK] could only be brought on the ground that the decision was unlawful under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. As Ms Begum did not advance that argument before the Court of Appeal”, her appeal “should have been dismissed”, they said.
Significantly, the UK’s highest court also found that the Court of Appeal, “mistakenly believed that, when an individual’s right to have a fair hearing of an appeal came into conflict with the requirements of national security, her right to a fair hearing must prevail”. Instead, the justices found that, “the right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public. If a vital public interest makes it impossible for a case to be fairly heard, then the courts cannot ordinarily hear it”.
“The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation appeal to be stayed until Ms Begum is in a position to play an effective part in it without the safety of the public being compromised. That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind”, the UKSC determined.
The decision by the court may well impact the cases of at least 40 other people, currently stuck outside of the UK, and whose citizenship has been revoked or is at risk of being revoked. The Supreme Court was asked to determine whether Begum has been deprived of the right to an effective remedy when she was unable to return to the UK in order to challenge the Home Secretary’s decision to strip her of her citizenship. The court did not make a final determination regarding whether the depravation of citizenship had been lawful.
Begum was 15-years old when she, along with two school friends, Amira Abas (15) and Kadiza Sultana (16) travelled to Daesh*-controlled territory in Syria. Begum, was stripped of her citizenship by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, despite the fact that she was never charged or tried for a crime. Lawyers challenged the Home Secretary’s decision on Begum’s behalf but lost, at the court of first instance, when her case was considered by the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission (SIAC). Begum was reportedly hoping to return to the UK with her newborn baby, before her citizenship was revoked in 2018, though her child has since died in the al-Roj Syrian refugee camp, where she currently remains.
In its original decision, SIAC recognised that Begum was unable to properly challenge the decision. “We accept that, in her current circumstances, [Begum] cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal and to that extent, the appeal will not be fair and effective”, SIAC determined. Yet, they nonetheless found that the “unfairness” to Begum could still be remedied, potentially by delaying the process until the end of hostilities in Syria. Begum was therefore not permit return to the UK to challenge the revocation of her citizenship.
*Daesh, also known as ISIS/IS/Islamic State, is banned in Russia and many other countries as a terrorist organisation.