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Begum case sets precedent for the UK: citizenship deprivation, lack of access to fair trial and crumbling counter terrorism policies

Shamima Begum has lost her appeal at the Supreme Court, in a case that sets a precedent for scores of British women and children stranded in camps in North East Syria. 

Over 64,000 people, mostly women and children, from 57 States are stuck in Al Hol and Roj camps. On 8 February, the UN called on those states to urgently repatriate their citizens:

“The number of the countries concerned and the dire humanitarian conditions of the camps highlight the need for collective, sustained and immediate action to prevent irreparable harm to the persons in vulnerable situation held there,”

Other European countries and states aligned with the UK, such as the US, have already repatriated a number of their citizens. 

The Begum v Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the Secretary of State for the Home Department case saw Ms Begum oppose the Home Secretary’s decision on the right to appear in person at proceedings to appeal the deprivation of her British citizenship. However, Lord Reed, president of the Supreme Court announced the ruling today, 26 February saying:

“The Supreme Court unanimously allows all of the home secretary’s appeals and dismisses Ms Begum’s cross-appeal.”

He added:

“The Court of Appeal mistakenly believed that, when an individual’s right to have a fair hearing… came into conflict with the requirements of national security, her right to a fair hearing must prevail.”

“But the right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public.”

 This ruling is a disappointing blow to others, meaning a dangerous precedent has been set for:

  • Access and right to a fair trial
  • Stripping of citizenship on the grounds of national security

Moreover, the ruling, once again, calls into question whether the UK’s deradicalisation and counter terrorism measures such as Prevent and Channel are fit for purpose, if they cannot contain the alleged threat to national security, that a 15-year-old girl poses. If the UK’s counter terrorism policies, that act as a model for similar policies around the world, including the EU are apparently world-leading, how can they simultaneously be incapable of supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young women and children such as Shamima? 

As well as the questions of legitimacy of UK counter terror policies, the ruling on citizenship deprivation on the grounds of national security, if it is to be applied, needs to then be applied across the board, otherwise it is wholly discriminatory. The UK has seen a huge rise in extreme right-wing terrorism in the Brexit era. Just this month, on 8 February, a 13-year old became the youngest person to commit a terrorist offence in the UK. However, instead of having his citizenship revoked, he was given a two-year youth rehabilitation order after pleading guilty to 12 offences. The disparity in treatment between these types of cases highlights a two-tier counter terror legal and justice system, in which those born in the UK to parents born abroad, face far more severe punishment than their far-right, white counterparts.

IOHR has been campaigning for the return of British children trapped in North East Syria and addressed a letter to UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab yesterday, 25 February, calling for the repatriation of British children in North East Syria. Valerie Peay, IOHR Director said, 

“No British child, unaccompanied or otherwise, should be abandoned when there is the opportunity to answer the call of our international partners and safely return these children and their mothers to the UK now.”


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