Shamima Begum’s citizenship removal was unlawful, court hears

Lawyers for woman who travelled to Syria to join ISIS trying to reverse UK Home Office decision made in 2019

The legal team for Shamima Begum is contending the decision to strip her of her UK citizenship at the Court of Appeal in London. PA
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The decision to remove citizenship from a woman who left Britain for Syria to join the ISIS terrorist group was unlawful, a British court has heard.

Shamima Begum, who travelled from her home in east London to Syria in 2015 as a teenager, was stripped of her citizenship on national security grounds shortly after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.

Ms Begum, now 24, this week lost a legal challenge against the initial decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).

Giving the commission’s decision in February, Mr Justice Jay said 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 UK Home Office had 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.

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 failed to hold 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 being trafficked.

Lawyers for the Home Office, which is set to begin oral arguments on Wednesday, have told the court the 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.”

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

“An individual could have been manipulated, radicalised and have her travel to ISIL-controlled territory facilitated by someone else," he added.

“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.

Updated: October 24, 2023, 12:32 PM