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.
The Home Office is proposing to legislate for a new criminal offence relating to the “possession of the most serious material glorifying or encouraging terrorism”.
This follows a suggestion made by the Chief Coroner, HHJ Mark Lucraft QC, in his report concerning the 2017 London Bridge terrorist attack. In his view, the lack of such an offence may sometimes prevent counter-terror police taking disruptive action against terror suspects, even when the extremist propaganda they possess is of the most offensive and shocking character. That propaganda might include, for instance, footage of sadistic violence.
It must provide a specific definition for the “most serious” category of materials which “glorify or encourage” terrorism. This should be supplemented with empirical guidance to ensure a high and objective threshold is set for criminal sanction.
The mens rea requirement for the offence must be deliberate possession of harmful material, with the knowledge that said material glorifies or encourages terrorism. The standard of liability must be one of intention rather than recklessness or negligence. This would ensure that only harmful purposes are penalised.
It must establish statutory defences to such possession on grounds of reasonable excuse and/or working in the public interest.
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?”
On Tuesday the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on David Miranda’s detention under the Terrorism Act 2000 and, while upholding the lawfulness of the detention in the immediate case, ruled that the stop powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act lack sufficient legal safeguards to be in line with Article 10.
Mr Miranda, the spouse of then-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was stopped and detained by the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport on 18 August 2013 under paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was questioned and items in his possession were taken by police, including encrypted material provided by Edward Snowden. Mr Miranda was detained for nine hours, the maximum period permitted at the time (since reduced to six hours). Continue reading →
Western governments are increasingly concerned to establish that they have the power to prevent individuals from traveling to the Middle East to engage in terrorism-related activity (see Rosalind English’s recent post on Jihadi Brides). This has resulted in a spike in passport seizures, especially on the domestic level. Under Chapter 1 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 the UK government has the authority to seize UK passports
where a person is suspected of intending to leave Great Britain or the United Kingdom in connection with terrorism-related activity.
These events encouraged me to revisit a 2010 publication I co-authored with my colleague Jason Reed Struble, entitled ‘The Nature of a Passport at the Intersection of Customary International Law and American Judicial Practice’ (16 Ann. Surv. Int’l & Comp. L. 9 (2010)). In that piece we discussed the very nature of a passport and its role in both international and United States domestic law. This article focussed on the seizure of foreign passports by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the subsequent tribulations that follow. Thus, the work focused on a different spectrum of passport seizures, i.e. a government seizing another government’s passport, as opposed to a government seizing passports of its own nationals. Continue reading →
London Borough Tower of Hamlets v B  EWHC 2491 (Fam) 21 August 2015 – read judgment
When a judge waxes lyrical about a child, garlanded with starred GCSEs, their intelligence, their medical school ambitions, you wonder what is coming. It’s the judicial equivalent of those blurred reproductions in the press of murder victims’ graduate portraits. In this case, a sixteen year old girl “B”, the subject of a careful but nevertheless alarming judgment in the Family Division, turned out to be one of the many girls groomed by their family for exodus to Syria; all of whom appear to be:
intelligent young girls, highly motivated academically, each of whom has, to some and greatly varying degrees, been either radicalised or exposed to extreme ideology promulgated by those subscribing to the values of the self-styled Islamic State.
B herself seemed unoppressed by the situation she was in and indeed wrote to the judge in those terms. She and her family refused to give evidence and sat impassively whilst Heydon J gave judgment.
They have betrayed no emotion; they have been impassive and inscrutable as I have faced the challenge of deciding whether their family should be fragmented and their children removed. Their self discipline is striking. They have listened carefully. The mother has taken careful notes. They have revealed nothing in their responses.
These cases differ from the common run of family abuse cases in that these young women, in the judge’s words, have “boundless opportunities, comfortable homes and carers who undoubtedly love them”. But they have been seduced by a belief that travelling to Syria to become what is known as ‘Jihadi brides’ is somehow romantic and honourable both to them and to their families. Continue reading →
Geller and another, R (on the application of) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ – read judgment
This short case involves the old dilemma of public order law: whether it is right to shut down speech when the speaker himself does not intend to incite violence, but whose presence it is said may lead third parties to commit violence. Indeed the facts of this particular case go further than that , because the applicants had no plans to make any public address during their proposed visit to Britain. It was their presence alone which was feared would inflame “community tensions”.
The applicants were two well-known US writers whose critical views of Islam led to them being prevented from entering the country in May 2013, to speak at a rally in the aftermath of the terrorist murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. An exclusion order was issued against them on grounds of public order, of which they sought judicial review. This was their appeal against the Immigration Tribunal’s refusal to allow them to proceed with the judicial review claim. Continue reading →
Liberty v Government Communications Headquarters ( IPT/13/77/H); Privacy International v FCO and others (IPT/13/92/CH); American Civil Liberties Union v Government Communications Headquarters (IPT/13/168-173/H); Amnesty International Ltd v The Security Service and others (IPT/13/194/CH); Bytes for All v FCO (IPT/13/204/CH), The Investigatory Powers Tribunal  UKIPTrib 13_77-, 5 December 2014 – read judgment
Robert Seabrook QC is on the panel of the IPT and David Manknell of 1 Crown Office acted as Counsel to the Tribunal in this case. They have nothing to do with the writing of this post.
This is a fascinating case, not just on the facts or merits but because it is generated by two of the major catalysts of public law litigation: the government’s duty to look after the security of its citizens, and the rapid outpacing of surveillance law by communications technology. Anyone who has seen The Imitation Game, a film loosely based on the biography of Alan Turing, will appreciate the conflicting currents at the core of this case: the rights of an individual to know, and foresee, what the limits of his freedom are, and the necessity to conceal from the enemy how much we know about their methods. Except the Turing film takes place in official wartime, whereas now the state of being at “war” has taken on a wholly different character. Continue reading →
The news last week was that the Foreign Secretary has proposed a revival of a fourteenth century statute in order to prosecute British jihadists who travel to Iraq or Syria to fight. Cries of foul are coming from the usual quarters, and there’s even a protest that the Strasbourg Court would object, which, given the current controversy surrounding that tribunal, may be a good reason in itself for such a move.
In the current froth over the Convention versus “home grown” human rights, there is much talk of the Magna Carta. So may be of interest to some that in the opinion of one of the greatest legal scholars in history, Edward Coke, the Statute of Treason had a legal importance second only to that of the “Great Charter of the Liberties of England”, piloted by feudal barons to limit King John’s power in 1215.
Politics aside, how would this work? On the face of it, a law which has been on the statute books for centuries, and is found to be applicable to a current state of affairs, is an equum donatum whose dental health should not be examined too closely. Although the last person to be convicted under the 1351 Treason Act – the Nazi propagandist William Joyce (otherwise known as Lord Haw Haw)- was hanged, now any British citizen convicted of the offence could be given a life sentence. Continue reading →
The Court of Appeal has published its decision in Guardian News Media v AB and CD. It is not a judgment, the Court says. Judgments – plural – will be given “in due course.” Still, the 24 paragraph decision contains the order and explanation of the order, and gives an indication of some of the reasons that will follow.
Is this a good decision? It is better than it might have been, but there are still deeply worrying problems.
David Miranda v Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and three interveners  EWHC 255 (Admin) – read judgment
The High Court has rejected all the arguments supporting David Miranda’s application for judicial review of his detention at Heathrow Airport in August last year. In a highly readable and pungent judgment, Laws LJ has some robust things to say about the vaunting of journalistic interests over public security in the guise of Article 10, and the ‘mission creep’ of requirements demanded by the courts for state action to be considered “proportionate”.
This is the long-awaited conclusion to the substantive hearing since judicial review proceedings were initiated seven months ago; see our posts on previous stages of this saga here, here and here. It will be remembered that Mr Miranda was detained and questioned by police officers under the Terrorism Act 2000, and various items in his possession, notably encrypted storage devices, were taken from him. Miranda claims that all this was done without any legal authority.
The claim, which was supported by numerous civil liberties interveners, raised three questions:
Did paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 empower the police to stop and question the claimant for the purpose of determining whether he appeared to be “concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”?
Even if it did, was the use of the power proportionate to the legitimate aim?
Is the paragraph 2(1) power repugnant to the right of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the ECHR?
Laws LJ, giving judgment for the three judge panel, answered the first two in the affirmative, and said a firm “no” to last.
The claimant is a Brazilian citizen and the spouse of Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who at the material time was working for the Guardian newspaper. Some months after an initial contact made in late 2012 Mr Greenwald met Edward Snowden, who provided him with encrypted data which had been stolen from the National Security Agency of the United States. The data included UK intelligence material. Some of it formed the basis of articles in the Guardian on 6 and 7 June 2013 and on later dates. On 12 August 2013 the claimant travelled from Rio de Janeiro to Berlin in order to meet the other journalist involved, Laura Poitras. He was carrying encrypted material derived from the data obtained by Mr Snowden and he was travelling to collect computer drives containing further such material to assist in the journalistic activity of Mr Greenwald. He was stopped at 0805 on Sunday 18 August 2013 at Heathrow on his way back to Rio de Janeiro.
A series of Port Circulation Sheets (PCS) were circulated to counter-terrorism police alerting them that the claimant was “likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security”, and requesting them to establish the nature of his activity, assess the risk that he posed to UK national security and to mitigate as appropriate. A PCS essentially triggers the powers of the police under certain circumstances to carry out a ports stop against a named individual.
The claimant was detained for approximately 9 hours. According to a statement from the Intelligence, Security and Resilience in the Cabinet Office, the encrypted data contained in the external hard drive taken from the claimant contained approximately 58,000 highly classified UK intelligence documents. Many were classified SECRET or TOP SECRET.
Judicial review proceedings started shortly afterwards, and in November 2013, after various interlocutory hearings, the substantive hearing came before the High Court.
The Court’s Decision: Improper purpose
The Schedule 7 purpose – determining whether [the subject] appears to be a person who “has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” – must be the purpose for which the officers execute the stop if it is to be lawful. It doesn’t make the stop unlawful if there is a subsidiary purpose – “killing two birds with one stone” – but the permitted purpose must be the “true and dominant purpose behind the act” (R v Southwark Crown Court ex p. Bowles  AC 641,  UKHL 16].
The fact that the police officers in question had not been given sufficient information about the intelligence did not mean that they had not executed their instructions in good faith:
Given the context – the possible apprehension of terrorism – Parliament must have enacted Schedule 7 in the knowledge that there might be very good reasons why the examining officers … should not be privy to the whole story. (para 21)
The purpose of the stop thus disclosed was to “ascertain the nature of the material which the claimant was carrying and if on examination it proved to be as was feared, to neutralise the effects of its release (or further release) or dissemination”. Moreover, the proper exercise of the Schedule 7 power did not require that the examining officer have any grounds whatever for suspecting that a person was connected with terrorism within Act’s definition. The Schedule 7 purpose was not to determine whether the subject is, but only whether he “appears to be” a terrorist. The Schedule 7 power was created by Parliament in order to provide “a reasonable but limited opportunity for the ascertainment of a possibility: the possibility that a traveller at a port may be involved (“concerned” – s.40(1)(b)), directly or indirectly, in any of a range of activities enumerated in s.1(2)”.
Given the facts stated in the last PCS and the National Security Justification, Laws LJ for the Court concluded that the purpose of the stop – to ascertain the nature of the material which the claimant was carrying and if on examination it proved to be as was feared, to neutralise the effects of its release (or further release) or dissemination – “fell properly within Schedule 7 of the 2000 Act on the latter’s true construction.”
The classic three step proportionality test – was the objective important enough to justify limiting a right, was the measure connected to that objective, and was the measure no more intrusive than other necessary – has been elaborated over the past decade, most recently by Lord Sumption in Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury (No 2) 3 WLR 170,  UKSC 39. This adds a fourth question, which is to ask whether, even if the measure in question is not particularly intrusive, did it nevertheless fail to strike a fair balance has been struck between the rights of the individual and the interests of the community? Laws LJ pondered on the implications of such a requirement, and found it not to his liking:
It appears to require the court, in a case where the impugned measure passes muster on points (i) – (iii), to decide whether the measure, though it has a justified purpose and is no more intrusive than necessary, is nevertheless offensive because it fails to strike the right balance between private right and public interest; and the court is the judge of where the balance should lie. I think there is real difficulty in distinguishing this from a political question to be decided by the elected arm of government. If it is properly within the judicial sphere, it must be on the footing that there is a plain case.
Free Speech and the Protection of Journalistic Expression
Laws LJ commenced his consideration of this element of the claim with a brisk dismissal of all the Strasbourg case law on the matter. The idea of free speech has received sufficient emphasis in the law of England –
I do not therefore think it necessary, on this part of the case, to place any reliance on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights; the common law is a sufficient arena for the debate.
In any event, much of the law on free speech in journalism was of no relevance here since it concerned protection of sources. No such issue arose here. The source was no secret: “Mr Snowden stole the material, and the claimant (however indirectly) got it from Mr Snowden.” (para 48).
Furthermore, the mistaken idea seems to have taken hold that the essential justification of free expression as a fundamental value is the promotion or betterment of democratic government. Freedom of speech may indeed be “the lifeblood of democracy”; but that is not the same thing.
The perception of free expression as a servant of democracy, however, would tend to devalue non-political speech and justify the prohibition or abridgement of speech advocating undemocratic government … This would fuel what is anyway one of exuberant democracy’s weaknesses, namely the intolerance of minorities. Everyone, even democracy’s enemy, must surely be allowed his say provided he advocates no crime nor violates the rights of others. The reason is that free thought, which is a condition of every man’s flourishing, needs free expression; and this is every person’s birthright, in whatever polity he has to live. There are of course undemocratic societies in which free speech is an idle hope. But free speech is not a creature of democracy; if anything, the converse. The critics of democracy may keep democracy on its toes. (para 45)
Turning to the matter in hand, Laws LJ observed that this privileging of political speech over other forms of expression has a distorting effect on the proportionality debate. The claimant, in other words, was seeking a heightened protection for himself, or at least the material he was carrying) on account of his association with the journalist Mr Greenwald. There was no basis for the court to extend such protection:
the application of requirement (iv) in the toll of proportionality – “whether… a fair balance has been struck between the rights of the individual and the interests of the community” – needs at least to be modified. The contrast is not between private right and public interest. The journalist enjoys no heightened protection for his own sake, but only for the sake of his readers or his audience. If there is a balance to be struck, it is between two aspects of the public interest.
The sting of the claimant’s challenge was that the defendants did not believe that the claimant’s possession of the material presented any real danger to national security or risk of loss of life. Whilst acknowledging the limits of evidence not cross-examined, Laws LJ could find “no perceptible foundation” for such a suggestion. The truth of it was that the claimant’s broader argument on proportionality – that the use of Schedule 7 was in any event unjustified – did not in fact depend on the categorisation of the GCHQ documents as journalistic material. The claimant was trying to make out a case that he had been assisting in the conduct of responsible journalism, and the law’s duty to protect that activity meant that interference with it by the summary and unsupervised process of Schedule 7 was disproportionate and unlawful whether or not any intercepted documents strictly fell within the statutory definition of “journalistic material”:
… given the substantial, often insuperable, difficulty a journalist faces in seeking to determine what classified material may be safely published and what may not (paragraph 58 above), the notion of “responsible journalism” throws little light on the proportionality issue.
The claimant’s essential argument rested on three propositions:
Journalists, “like judges”, have a role in a democratic State to scrutinise action by government.
The function of the free press is inhibited by an insistence that anything (in the security field) which the journalist seeks to publish must be stifled because it may be part of the “jigsaw” from which a knowing terrorist may draw harmful inferences.
There is a balance to be struck, again in the security field, between the responsibility of government and the responsibility of journalists.
But nobody had satisfied the court that there was any constitutional basis for any of these propositions, which would confer on the journalists’ profession a constitutional status which it does not possess:
They suggest … that journalists share with government the responsibility of measuring what is required by way of withholding publication for the protection of national security. Journalists have no such constitutional responsibility. They have, of course, a professional responsibility to take care so far as they are able to see that the public interest, including the security of the State and the lives of other people, is not endangered by what they publish. But that is not an adequate safeguard for lives and security, because of the “jigsaw” quality of intelligence information, and because the journalist will have his own take or focus on what serves the public interest, for which he is not answerable to the public through Parliament. The constitutional responsibility for the protection of national security lies with elected government: see, amongst much other authority, Binyam Mohamed QB 218per Lord Neuberger MR at paragraph 131.
He concluded, therefore, that the Schedule 7 stop was a proportionate measure in the circumstances. Its objective was not only legitimate, but “very pressing”.
In a press freedom case, the fourth requirement in the catalogue of proportionality involves as I have said the striking of a balance between two aspects of the public interest: press freedom itself on one hand, and on the other whatever is sought to justify the interference: here national security. On the facts of this case, the balance is plainly in favour of the latter. (para 73)
For similar reasons the Court rejected the claimant’s and intervenors’ related submission, that the Schedule 7 power is over-broad or arbitrary, and for that reason not “prescribed by law” under Article 10(2).
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Belhaj and another v Straw and Others  EWHC 4111 (QB) 20 December 2013 – read judgment
Peter Skelton of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the defendants in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
The High Court has struck out claims against British establishment defendants for “unlawful rendition”. The doctrine of immunity attaching to an act of state is total bar to that such claims and is not limited by the gravity of the alleged violation of rights.
The first claimant, an opponent of the Gaddafi regime, and his wife, the second claimant, had been apprehended in Bangkok in 2004 whilst trying to travel from Beijing to the UK to claim asylum. They were held in a detention centre in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks and whilst they were there the UK authorities, along with the US, the Malaysians and the Chinese, worked together to secure their extradition to Libya (this was a time when friendly relations were maintained between the UK and the Libyan government). After another journey to Bangkok, where they were detained in a US “black site”, they were flown to Tripoli and transported to Tajoura prison, a detention facility operated by the Libyan intelligence services. The second claimant was released later in 2004, but the first claimant was transferred to another prison and held until 2010. Continue reading →
On 6 July 2010, in the first innocent days of the Coalition Government, former appeal judge Sir Peter Gibson was asked by the Prime Minister to enquire into “whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.” Almost 3 1/2 years later, the Detainee Inquiry has produced a report (it was originally presented to the Government on 27 June 2012 but there have been heavy negotiations about sensitive material in the public version).
The report makes clear at the outset that it “does not, and cannot, make findings as to what happened”. Why so? Because the Inquiry was scrapped before it heard evidence from any witnesses, so it couldn’t test any conclusions reached purely on the basis of documentary evidence. The reason given at the time by Sir Peter was that “it is not practical for the Inquiry to continue for an indefinite period to wait for the conclusion of the police investigations“. The “investigations” are those into claims of collusion by the intelligence services with torture in Libya (see this Q&A for more).
This was an appeal against the Administrative Court’s dismissal of the appellant’s claim for judicial review of the secretary of state’s decision to allow him to be added to a list of persons subject to sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 1617. This Resolution required UN member states to freeze the assets on those named on the Consolidated List of members of Al-Qaida and its associates. The relevant UN committee was asked to add the name of the appellant, an Egyptian national resident in the UK, to the list. The secretary of state placed a hold on the appellant’s designation so the UK could consider whether he met the criteria for designation. The Foreign Secretary subsequently accepted that he did meet the criteria and released the hold, which meant that he was added to the list. Once a designation is made, it lasts until all members of the Security Council can be persuaded that it should be lifted.
It is a platitude that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It is for precisely this reason that the international community has not been able to agree on a definition of terrorism to be embedded in international law.
The issue in this appeal was whether the definition of ‘terrorism’ in the UK Terrorism Act 2000 includes military attacks by non-state armed groups against national or international armed forces in a non-international armed conflict.
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