The fate of Shamima Begum, the British teenager who joined the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) and has asked to return home, has divided opinion.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s
decision to deprive the 19-year-old mother of her citizenship is apparently
popular: a recent poll
found that 78% support the move.
But others have raised concerns about the propriety of using such a draconian power against a British citizen by birth in circumstances where she may be rendered stateless, also leaving the fate of her child uncertain.
From Bethnal Green schoolgirl to
Ms Begum was born in the UK to
parents of Bangladeshi heritage. She was
one of three 15-year-old schoolgirls from the Bethnal Green Academy who
travelled to Syria via Turkey in 2015 to join ISIS.
The Metropolitan Police
subsequently apologised to the
families for failing to warn them that the schoolgirls were at risk and
suggested that they would not face criminal charges if they returned to the UK.
After arriving in Raqqa, Syria, Ms
Begum married ISIS fighter Yago Riedijk, a Dutch national. She had three children with him, two of whom
died. Her youngest son, Jarrah, was born
in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
The press caught up with Ms Begum just before she gave birth and she has given a series of incendiary interviews. She claimed that she had been “just been a housewife for the entire four years” and that she had not done anything “dangerous” or made propaganda. However, she also said she had “no regrets” about joining ISIS and suggested that the Manchester Arena bombings were justified because of the bombing of civilians in Syria.
Special Immigration Appeals Commissionand Secretary of State for the Home Department v R (Begum)  UKSC 7
Since 2019 when Shamima Begum was found in a camp in north Syria, her hopes of returning to the UK have ebbed and flowed (see here and here). Stripped of her British citizenship, she brought three sets of legal proceedings. Last week, after a ruling by the Supreme Court, her hopes receded once more. The Home Secretary was entitled to refuse her entry to the UK to pursue her appeal against the loss of citizenship, the Court ruled. So, Ms Begum’s appeal has been stayed, pending some change in her circumstances which will enable her to participate in a hearing – albeit from outside the UK.
The importance of the Judgment goes well beyond Ms Begum’s own circumstances.
It underlines an important constitutional principle about the separation of powers, at a time when the Government is carefully scrutinising such matters: the executive, not the judiciary, is the primary decision-maker when assessing risks to national security.
In failing to acknowledge this, said the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal erred when it ruled last summer that fairness required Ms Begum be permitted into the UK to pursue her citizenship appeal, notwithstanding the national security concerns.
When she was fifteen Shamina Begum slipped unimpeded out of the country to join ISIL. Only her image, walking with two school friends, was captured as she made her way through Gatwick Airport onto the aircraft. Her return to the UK, five years on is proving more difficult.
After the collapse of ISIL’s stronghold in Raqqa, Ms Begum appeared, heavily pregnant, in a camp in northern Syria, held by the Syrian Democratic Forces. In an interview she said she wanted to return but did not regret having gone to Syria.
On 19 February 2019, the Secretary of State, Mr Javid, informed Ms Begum’s family he considered she posed a threat to national security and issued an order depriving her of her nationality.
As was her right, Ms Begum issued an appeal against the deprivation order to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). Permission to enter the UK to pursue the appeal was refused by the Secretary of State.
Begum v Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the Secretary of State for the Home Department EWCA Civ 918
Early last year, after ISIL was dislodged from Raqqah, Shamima Begum was discovered in a refugee camp in Syria. When she expressed a wish to return home to London’s Bethnal Green, Her Majesty’s Government wasn’t welcoming. She had left to join ISIL and HMG did not want her back. It considered her a serious risk to national security and removed her British citizenship. It then refused her leave to enter the UK to appeal that decision. But the Court of Appeal, in the latest legal ruling on the case, has held that fairness requires she be permitted to return to participate in her appeal.
The Court’s decision overturns some, but not all, of the Judgment of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) delivered in February (and reported here).
There is a long history of crossover between lawyers and politicians; more members of parliament come from the law than almost any other profession. But the relationship – never totally tranquil – has become more strained in recent years.
This week has been dominated by Shamima Begum. On Tuesday last week, Home Secretary Sajid Javid issued an order depriving Ms Begum of citizenship under s.40(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981. The act authorises the Secretary of State to deprive a person of citizenship where this is “conducive to the public good” – but s.40(4) states that the order must not make the person stateless.
The Home Office claimed compliance with s.40(4) on the basis that Ms Begum could claim citizenship from Bangladesh, in light of her Bangladeshi heritage, until the age of 21. However, on Wednesday, the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement that Ms Begum was not a Bangladeshi citizen, and that there was ‘no question’ of her being allowed into the country. Ms Begum herself told the BBC, “I wasn’t born in Bangladesh, I’ve never seen Bangladesh and I don’t even speak Bengali properly, so how can they claim I have Bangladeshi citizenship?”
The UK has seen an increasingly falling rate in arrests and prosecutions for cannabis possession over recent years, as police forces no longer see the point in enforcement. The Liberal Democrats have campaigned for its legalisation since 2016, and the first medically-prescribed cannabis was permitted in the UK in 2018. However, crucial NHS cannabis-based medicines for epilepsy remained prohibitively difficult to access for another year, with the majority of self-reported ‘medicinal’ users still turning to the black market. With growing numbers of US states, alongside Canada and South Africa decriminalising recreational use over the past three years, some UK MPs believe that cannabis legalisation will occur in the UK within five to ten years.
The future of the UK response to COVID-19 remains uncertain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has hinted that things will be ‘significantly normal’ by Christmas, and has emphasised his reluctance to impose a second national lockdown, comparing such a threat to a ‘nuclear deterrent’. Yet the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says there is a risk we will need another national lockdown in the winter months. Mr Johnson has said the advice on working from home will change on 1st August to ‘go back to work if you can’; Sir Patrick Vallance says there is ‘no reason’ to change that advice. Confusion continues to reign.
Access to justice has been a major casualty of the pandemic, with jury trials suspended and a steady backlog of cases building up in the courts. To address that backlog, the government is now opening 10 temporary ‘Nightingale Courts’, which will hear civil, family, tribunal, and non-custodial criminal cases. Chair of the Criminal Bar Association Caroline Goodwin QC says that these courts are ‘just a start’, and that further buildings and a renewed focus on criminal trails will be needed to clear the backlog. Justice Minister Robert Buckland has already warned that the backlog may not be cleared until 2021.
The Court of Appeal has granted Shamima Begum leave to enter the UK in order to pursue her appeal against the Home Office’s decision to remove her British citizenship, overruling part of the decision made by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The court’s ruling is discussed in more detail below, and in an article by Marina Wheeler QC.
Renu Begum holds a photograph of her sister Shamima, taken prior to the then school girls travel to Syria to support the Islamic State. Credit: The Guardian
Immigration cases have dominated human rights case law this week. However, perhaps the greatest controversy concerned the Home Secretary’s intervention in the case of Shamima Begum. News broke on Sunday morning that the nineteen-year-old had given birth in Syria to baby boy, having travelled to the country to support ISIS as a school girl three years ago.
In a case that was described as “the first such case to have come on for hearing before this court” and one that shares many similarities with the tabloid-grabbing story of Shamima Begum (discussed on the Blog here), Mr Justice Pepperall refused permission to bring judicial review proceedings on behalf of an Islamic State combatant whose citizenship had been revoked by the Home Secretary.
A father (Mr Islam) brought judicial review proceedings on behalf of his son (Ashraf) challenging the Home Secretary’s decision to revoke Ashraf’s British citizenship because of his involvement with the Islamic State / Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (referred to in the judgment as ISIL).
Ashraf was born in London and is a British citizen by birth. He has lived and studied in both Bangladesh and the United Kingdom throughout his life and was studying in Dhaka at the time of his disappearance in April 2015. Shortly after his disappearance, Mr Islam learned that his son had crossed into Syria and joined ISIL.
And so we come to the end of another year. The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to dominate the news, particularly with the very concerning surge of the Omicron variant this month. Many reading this will be separated from loved ones over Christmas. The year has also seen the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal at the end of August, the resumption of military rule in Myanmar and the ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, this year recognised by the House of Commons and the US government (as well as many other bodies and organisations) as constituting a genocide. So, one could say that this year has rivalled last year for infamy.
But what, I hear you ask, about the law? As always, this year has been packed with fascinating and important legal developments — many of which you may have caught, but some of which may have passed under the radar. And so, please refresh your glass (or mug) and join me on another adventure as we review the 10 cases that defined 2021.
After some quieter times earlier in the year, last week saw no fewer than two Supreme Court judgements and twenty Court of Appeal (Civil Division) decisions.
However, the dominant legal and political story of the week (the ubiquitous Brexit aside) concerned criticism of the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, after reports emerged about the death of the child of Shamima Begum. The 19-year-old left East London to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State aged 15. Javid had stripped Begum of her British Citizenship on the basis that she was a dual national of Bangladesh. News broke this morning that the Home Office had removed citizenship from a further two individuals who had left under similar circumstances.
The European Convention 1950 guarantees the right to a fair trial. Everyone knows that. At article 6.1 the Convention says:
Right to a fair trial
1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law….
What everyone does not know is what is a ‘civil right’. And in the present context – namely divorce of civil partnership dissolution – do you have a right to query the assertion of your spouse or civil partner that your marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down?
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 simplifies the divorce and civil partnership dissolution process by changing the law to make irretrievable breakdown – as now – the only ground for divorce or dissolution. But to prove that, there was no longer any need to establish one or more facts: adultery (marriage only), unreasonable behaviour or living apart for varying periods. One, or both, parties can file a statement of irretrievable breakdown. The procedure for this is likely – no commencement date has been confirmed – to be in force from 6 April 2022. All so far so civilised.
A white supremacist murdered 50 worshippers and injured 50 more in two consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand during Friday Prayer on 15 March 2019. The victims’ ages ranged from 3 to 77. Immediately prior to the attacks, the perpetrator emailed a 73-page manifesto to more than 30 recipients, including several media outlets and the office of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. It expressed anti-immigrant hate speech, white supremacist rhetoric, and an unequivocal statement that the motive behind the attacks was to accelerate anti-Muslim and anti-migrant sentiment across majority white nations.
This time last year I wrote that 2019 had been “perhaps the most tumultuous period in British politics for decades”. Little did I know what 2020 would have in store.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused loss, suffering and anxiety across not only the UK but almost all of the globe. At the UK Human Rights Blog, we feel deep gratitude to the doctors, nurses, carers and essential workers who have kept society going in what has been a deeply difficult year for so many of us.
In light of this, it is perhaps harder to summon the usual festive spirit that graces the approach of the holiday period — particularly as so many of us will be separated from our loved ones. And yet, perhaps it makes holding onto some spirit of joy all the more necessary.
Writing the article summing up the legal developments of the year is one of the highlights for me as commissioning editor of this blog. Let us embark together on a tour of what the courts had to say over the last 12 months. As ever, it has been a very interesting year.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.