Access to justice / Right to a fair trial

Misuse of extreme powers latest threat to Rule of Law, says Liberty following Shamima Begum ruling

Posted on 26 Feb 2021

  • Liberty intervened in Shamima Begum case to uphold right to a fair trial
  • Outcome does not serve justice and sets dangerous precedent
  • Result means Shamima Begum cannot participate in her own hearing

Stripping someone’s citizenship without due process undermines the rule of law and everyone’s right to a fair trial, Liberty has warned.

The human rights group highlighted the threat after the Supreme Court today (Friday 26 February) overturned a previous ruling over Shamima Begum’s right to return to the UK.

Shamima Begum was born in the UK but left the country at the age of 15 to join ISIL in Syria. The British Government stripped her of her citizenship two years ago this month (February 2019) and she has been fighting that decision from where she currently resides in a Syrian refugee camp.

In July 2020, the Court of Appeal agreed with Liberty’s submissions and the arguments put forth by lawyers acting for Begum, saying it was “unthinkable” that she should be forced to continue her appeal from the refugee camp in Syria. The Court found that the only way to uphold Begum’s right to a fair hearing is to allow her to return to the UK so that she can properly participate in her appeal against the stripping of her citizenship.

Today, the Supreme Court overturned that decision and said the Government can block Shamima Begum’s return, denying her the opportunity to participate in her appeal unless and until her circumstances change so that she can participate remotely.

Liberty lawyer Rosie Brighouse said: “The right to a fair trial is not something democratic Governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship. If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.

“The security services have safely managed the returns of hundreds of people from Syria, but the Government has chosen to target Shamima Begum. This approach does not serve justice, it’s a cynical distraction from a failed counter-terror strategy and another example of this Government’s disregard for access to justice and the rule of law.”

Citizenship-stripping is among the most extreme powers available to Government. Making someone stateless is against international law but the Government has justified using it against Shamima Begum because, they say, she is eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship. She was born in Britain and has never held a Bangladeshi passport.

Use of these powers has created an inconsistent, discriminatory tiered system of punishment, which leads to the Government stripping people who have non-British heritage of their citizenship, Liberty says.

The Government has sharply increased the use of this draconian power in recent years, meaning that due process in these cases is more important than ever, Liberty says.

Richard Hermer QC and Ayesha Christie of Matrix Chambers acted for Liberty.

Contact the Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 / 07973 831 128 or

Notes to Editors:

  • The Home Office stripped Begum’s citizenship in February 2019. She is in the process of appealing that decision in the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal (“SIAC”), but the Tribunal found against Begum on a number of preliminary issues.
  • In June 2019, the Home Office also refused Begum leave to enter the UK to pursue her appeal against the deprivation of her citizenship. Begum unsuccessfully challenged that refusal by way of judicial review and an appeal to the SIAC.
  • In June 2020, the Court of Appeal heard Begum’s challenge to two of the SIAC’s preliminary rulings and the refusal to grant her leave to enter the UK.
  • Liberty intervened to argue that minimum fair trial standards have not been met because Begum has been unable to meaningfully participate at any stage of the legal process.
  • The Court of Appeal found in her favour in July, saying her threat as a security risk is outweighed by the importance of upholding the right to a fair trial. The Government sought to overturn that decision at a Supreme Court hearing in November.
  • The Home Secretary strips people of their British citizenship through an executive “deprivation order” under the British Nationality Act 1981.
  • Fourteen people had their British citizenship removed on the grounds that it was “conducive to the public good” in 2016, 104 in 2017, and 21 people in 2018.

I'm looking for advice on this

Did you know Liberty offers free human rights legal advice?

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

Did you find this content useful?

Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not

Need advice or information?