Appeal Court hears Shamima Begum should be given British citizenship back

11 June 2020, 05:53

The Appeal Court has heard Shamima Begum should have her citizenship given back
The Appeal Court has heard Shamima Begum should have her citizenship given back. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Shamima Begum's British citizenship should be restored because she cannot have a "fair and effective appeal" against the Government's decision to strip her of it, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Begum, now 20, left the UK in February 2015 and lived under IS rule for more than three years. She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year.

She was one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join so-called Islamic State.

Former home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship in February 2019.

Opening Ms Begum's case at a remote hearing on Thursday, Tom Hickman QC said the key issue in her appeal was whether the absence of "a fair or effective means of challenging the decision to deprive her of her British citizenship" made the decision unlawful.

He told the court: "It is a basic principle of our law that executive decisions cannot stand where the requirements of natural justice are not complied with."

Mr Hickman said that "in the present case there is a manifest breach of natural justice", and that Ms Begum's appeal against the deprivation of her citizenship should be allowed because her appeal "cannot be pursued in a manner that satisfies even minimum requirements of fair procedure".

He also said that Mr Javid had been informed that Ms Begum could not have a fair or effective appeal when he took the decision to revoke her British citizenship.

The 20-year-old is appealing against the Government decision to strip her of her citizenship
The 20-year-old is appealing against the Government decision to strip her of her citizenship. Picture: PA

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the Home Office, said in written submissions: "The fact that the appellant could not fully engage with the statutory appeal procedure was a result of her decision to leave the UK, travel to Syria against Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and align with ISIL.

"This led to her being held in conditions akin to detention in a foreign state at the hands of a third party, the Syrian Defence Force.

"It was not the result of any action by the Secretary of State and the deprivation decision did not have any causative impact on the appellant in this respect."

Sir James added that Ms Begum had been able to speak to her lawyers, and argued that "the fact that it might not be possible to mirror the level of access to legal advice that would be available if someone were at liberty in the UK does not mean the proceedings are unfair".

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Last year, Ms Begum took legal action against the Home Office at the High Court and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone's British citizenship on national security grounds.

In February 2019, SIAC ruled the decision to revoke Ms Begum's British citizenship did not render her stateless and was therefore lawful, as she was "a citizen of Bangladesh by descent" at the time of the decision.

A decision to revoke someone's British citizenship is lawful only if an individual is entitled to citizenship of another country.

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

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

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The disappearance of three British schoolgirls who fled the UK to travel to Syria to join so-called Islamic State in February 2015 made headlines around the world.

Kadiza Sultana, then 16, and Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both then 15, were all pupils at Bethnal Green Academy in east London when they left their homes and families to join IS, shortly after their friend Sharmeena Begum, who is no relation, travelled to Syria in December 2014.

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

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Ms Begum claims she married Dutch convert Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in IS territory, with all three of her schoolfriends 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.

Sultana was reportedly killed in an air strike in 2016, while Abase and Sharmeena Begum's current whereabouts are unknown.