Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to UK to pursue citizenship appeal, court rules

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry

Shamima Begum – the east London schoolgirl who travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) group – should be allowed to return to the UK to challenge the deprivation of her British citizenship, senior judges have ruled.

Ms Begum, now 20, travelled to Syria in February 2015 and lived under IS rule for more than three years before she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year.

Then home secretary Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship on national security grounds later that month.

Ms Begum then took legal action against the Home Office, claiming the decision was unlawful because it rendered her stateless and exposed her to a real risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.

Shamima Begum refuses to speak to ITV News after judges rule she should be allowed back to UK to challenge her citizenship appeal

In February, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone’s British citizenship on national security grounds – ruled the decision was lawful as Ms Begum was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent” at the time of the decision.

The tribunal also found that she “cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal and that, to that extent, the appeal will not be fair and effective”, but ruled that “it does not follow that her appeal succeeds”.

Shamima Begum travelled to Syria to join so-called Islamic State. Credit: PA

Ms Begum’s challenge to the Home Office’s decision to refuse to allow her to enter the UK to effectively pursue her appeal was also rejected.

On Thursday, however, the Court of Appeal ruled that “the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal”.

ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo has more on the ruling:

Lord Justice Flaux – sitting with Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh – said: “Fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns, so that the leave to enter appeals should be allowed.”

The judge found that “the national security concerns about her could be addressed and managed if she returns to the United Kingdom”.

In a statement, the Home Office described the ruling as "disappointing" and said it will look to appeal the judgement.

It added: "The government’s top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe."

Shamima Begum being shown a copy of the Home Office letter which stripped her of her British citizenship. Credit: ITV News

In its ruling, the court said: “If the Security Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions consider that the evidence and public interest tests for a prosecution for terrorist offences are met, she could be arrested and charged upon her arrival in the United Kingdom and remanded in custody pending trial.”

Lord Justice Flaux also said: “With due respect to SIAC, it is unthinkable that, having concluded that Ms Begum could not take any meaningful part in her appeal so that it could not be fair and effective, she should have to continue with her appeal nonetheless.”

He added: “It is difficult to conceive of any case where a court or tribunal has said we cannot hold a fair trial, but we are going to go on anyway.”

  • In February 2019 ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo showed Ms Begum a copy of the letter, confirming she had been stripped of her British citizenship:

A statement from Ms Begum's lawyers said the judgement "is an important reminder that fairness and the rule of law".

Daniel Furner, of Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, said: "Justice cannot be defeated, or indefinitely delayed, because a case is difficult or because national security is engaged. Fundamental rights are not extinguished because a person is abroad, or because the allegations against them are serious."

The statement continued: "The stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice, it is the opposite."

L to R, then 15-year-old Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana, then 16, and Shamima Begum, then 15, at Gatwick Airport in February 2015. Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

Human rights organisation Liberty, which intervened in Ms Begum's appeal, welcomed the ruling. Liberty lawyer Katie Lines said: "The right to a fair trial is not something the government can take away on a whim."

But the government said it is "bitterly disappointed" by the court’s ruling.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: "The government’s priority is maintaining our national security, and decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are not taken lightly.

While Sajid Javid, Home Secretary at the time Ms Begum had her citizenship revoked, said he was "deeply concerned" by the ruling.

In a statement posted to his Twitter page, the MP wrote: "Any restrictions of rights and freedom faced by Ms Begum are a direct consequence of the actions she has taken, in violation of both government guidance and common morality."

He continued: "Allowing her - and indeed other terrorists - back into the UK to pursue an appeal would create a national security risk.

"A consequence of this individual walking our streets would be that it serves as a lightning rod for both Islamist and far-right extremists."

ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reflects on the Court of Appeal decision:

It is 513 days since the Home Office wrote to the family of Shamima Begum in East London to tell her she had been stripped of her British citizenship: "I would be very grateful if you could ensure the Home Secretary’s decision is brought to her attention, along with her right of appeal," a government official wrote.

When I spoke to her last February, the day after the letter was sent, she assessed her chances of mounting a legal challenge as roughly zero.

"Well, I’m stuck here, how can I do that?"

Today, in a huge defeat for the Home Office, the Court of Appeal said Ms Begum should be allowed to come back to the UK to pursue her case "subject to such controls as the Secretary of State deems appropriate."

The deprivation of citizenship order was based on the assessment by Home Office lawyers that Ms Begum has a claim to Bangladeshi nationality - though this was denied by her family, and by the government in Dhaka.

"She is not a Bangladeshi citizen and has never applied for Bangladeshi citizenship. She was born in England and her mother is British,” Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told ITV News last year.

But these orders are driven, in part, by the government’s fear that prosecutors might not be able to gather sufficient evidence from a war zone to bring former IS members to trial.

How and when Begum might be returned to the UK is still unclear.

Last November, a group of orphaned British children were repatriated after the Foreign Office was told by the High Court to help arrange their return.

But since then, coronavirus restrictions have made movement difficult in and out of the refugee camps - such as the one where she is being held, and across the border to Iraq.

The case of Ms Begum is well-known, in part, because of her age - a schoolgirl who slipped out of the country and into Syria during the half term break alongside two of her classmates.

But she is one of dozens of British people who went to Syria and are now stuck in Kurdish camps or prisons. Today's court decision might be significant for many of them.