Shamima Begum: Return put on hold as Government win right to appeal

31 July 2020, 05:32

The Government is set to ask for permission to appeal against a legal decision
The Government is set to ask for permission to appeal against a legal decision. Picture: Met Police
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Shamima Begum's return to the UK will be put on hold after the Government won a court battle allowing them to appeal a decision which said she could return to the UK.

Begum, now 20, was one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State group (IS) in February 2015 and won a High Court appeal to allow her to return to the UK challenge the deprivation of her British citizenship.

But now the High Court has ruled that any return must be put on hold while the Government appeal the decision.

At a remote hearing on Friday, the Court of Appeal granted the Home Office permission to appeal against its ruling at the Supreme Court.

Lady Justice King said the case raised "points of law of general public importance" which should be considered by the UK's highest court.

The judge also granted permission for Ms Begum's lawyers to challenge the Court of Appeal's decision that the absence of a fair and effective appeal did not mean her British citizenship should be restored, subject to the Supreme Court accepting that part of the case.

Sir James Eadie QC, for the Home Office, earlier said there was "a big issue at stake", namely "what principles and approach should govern a case in which someone at present cannot have a fair and effective hearing in a deprivation appeal, but they cannot do so because they have placed themselves, not as a result of any of the Secretary of State's actions, (but) where that is the result of going abroad and aligning with terrorist groups".

Sir James said it was "an issue of real pressing public importance" which was "perhaps the central democratic issue of our times".

He added: "This cannot be assumed to be unique or even, given the number of people who have aligned in this way, to be a highly unusual case."

Sir James said Ms Begum was "in precisely the category that causes real concern".

He submitted that, while there may be "some potential for sympathy in light of the age she was when she left the jurisdiction ... she did leave the jurisdiction with the intention of, and then did align with violent extremists in Syria".

The court also heard that the apparent leaking of the Court of Appeal's draft judgment "or the essential contents of that judgment" to The Sun ahead of its formal publication would be referred to the Attorney General.

At the outset of Friday's hearing, Lady Justice King said: "There was a breach of the embargo which preserved the confidentiality of the judgment until hand down, the judgment having been circulated to the parties on July 9.

"Either a copy of that judgment, or the essential contents of that judgment, were disclosed or passed on to The Sun national newspaper in advance of the judgment being handed down on July 16."

The judge added that "the article was removed during the course of the night" before the Court of Appeal gave its ruling.

Lady Justice King also said that the article "rightly or wrongly referred to 'senior Government sources' as having been the source of the information".

She said: "We intend to report that matter to the Attorney General."

Sir James told the court that Sir Jonathan Jones, the head of the Government Legal Department, was conducting an investigation into the leak and would provide a final report on the matter in two to four weeks.

He added that there was "no suggestion or accusation that it was the appellant (Ms Begum) or someone on her legal team who might be responsible", but that "one cannot assume it was Her Majesty's Government".

She 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.

In February this year, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) - a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone's British citizenship on national security grounds - found Ms Begum "cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal and that, to that extent, the appeal will not be fair and effective".

But SIAC ruled that "it does not follow that her appeal succeeds" and 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.

However, earlier this month, 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".

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".

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."

The Government said it was "bitterly disappointed" by the ruling and Mr Javid said he was "deeply concerned" by the judgment.

Ms Begum was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families to join IS, shortly after Sharmeena Begum - who is no relation - travelled to Syria in December 2014.

Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, then 16 and 15 respectively, and Ms Begum boarded a flight from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, on February 17 2015, before making their way to Raqqa in Syria.

Ms Begum claims she married Dutch convert Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in IS territory, with all three of her school friends also reportedly marrying foreign IS fighters.

She told The Times last February that she left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband but her children, a one-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy, had both since died.

Her third child died shortly after he was born.

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