Shamima Begum’s citizenship removal was ‘unlawful’, Court of Appeal told

Shamima Begum in a Syrian refugee camp. Credit: GMB

The decision to deprive Shamima Begum of her British citizenship was unlawful, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Ms Begum travelled to Syria in 2015 – at the age of 15 – before her British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.

Earlier this year, the now-24-year-old lost a challenge against the decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).

Giving the commission’s ruling in February, Mr Justice Jay said that while there was a “credible suspicion that Ms Begum was recruited, transferred and then harboured for the purpose of sexual exploitation”, this did not prevent then-home secretary Sajid Javid from removing her citizenship.

At the Court of Appeal in London on Tuesday, Ms Begum’s lawyers began a bid to overturn this decision, with the Home Office opposing the challenge.

Three senior judges were told the Home Office failed to consider the legal duties owed to Ms Begum as a potential victim of trafficking or as a result of “state failures” in her case.

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Samantha Knights KC said in written submissions: “The appellant’s trafficking was a mandatory, relevant consideration in determining whether it was conducive to the public good and proportionate to deprive her of citizenship, but it was not considered by the Home Office.

“As a consequence, the deprivation decision was unlawful.”

Ms Knights and Dan Squires KC later said the UK has failed to have a “full and effective” investigation into how Ms Begum was trafficked.

In its ruling earlier this year, SIAC concluded there were “arguable breaches of duty” by state bodies – including the Metropolitan Police, Tower Hamlets council and Ms Begum’s school – in not preventing her from travelling to Syria.

Ms Knights told the Court of Appeal at the start of the three-day hearing that these “failures” could have also been unlawful and contributed to Ms Begum’s trafficking.

She continued: “The state failures in the present case were highly pertinent bearing in mind what steps could readily have been taken by state bodies to protect the appellant and prevent her leaving the UK, and how swiftly the appellant’s family acted when they were alerted to her having gone missing and the sort of action which could have been taken by the family in conjunction with state bodies had they been made aware of the risk of the appellant leaving the UK.”

Lawyers for the Home Office, which is set to begin oral arguments on Wednesday, have told the court that SIAC’s conclusion was correct.

Sir James Eadie KC, for the department, said in written submissions: “The fact that someone is radicalised, and may have been manipulated, is not inconsistent with the assessment that they pose a national security risk.

“Ms Begum contends that national security should not be a ‘trump’ card. But the public should not be exposed to risks to national security because events and circumstances have conspired to give rise to that risk.”

Shamima Begum fled the UK aged 15

Sir James also said the specialist commission “correctly recognised the difficulty at the heart of Ms Begum’s case”.

He continued: “An individual could have been manipulated, radicalised, and have her travel to ISIL-controlled territory facilitated by someone else.

“However, that would not touch the assessment that the individual also posed a real risk to national security, whether or not as a result of those same circumstances.”

The barrister later said SIAC was right to find there was “no direct connection between any potential failures, by other public authorities, in 2015” and Mr Javid’s decision to deprive Ms Begum of her citizenship.

The hearing before the Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr, Lord Justice Bean and Lady Justice Whipple is set to conclude on Thursday with a decision expected at a later date.

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