Access to justice


Posted on 16 Jul 2020

  • Access to justice safeguarded following legal victory
  • Shamima Begum should be allowed into the UK to face a fair trial
  • Banishment of UK citizens threatens rule of law

Liberty helped secure a victory for justice and fairness today, in an appeal brought by Shamima Begum against the Government’s decision to strip her of her citizenship.

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 in February 2019 and she has been fighting that decision from where she currently resides in a Syrian refugee camp.

Today the court, agreeing with Liberty’s submissions and arguments put forth by lawyers acting for Begum, said it is “unthinkable” that Begum 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.

Liberty lawyer Katie Lines said: “The right to a fair trial is not something the Government can take away on a whim. It is a fundamental part of our justice system and equal access to justice must apply to everyone.

“Banishing someone is the act of a Government shirking its responsibilities and it’s critical that cruel and irresponsible Government decisions can be properly challenged and overturned.”

Begum has been fighting to return to the UK after the Home Office stripped her of her citizenship in February 2019. The Government has sharply increased its use of powers to strip people of their British citizenship, meaning that due process in these cases is more important than ever.

A previous court ruling found that Begum could not meaningfully take part in her appeal against the stripping of her citizenship while she was in the refugee camp, meaning that the appeal could not be fair and effective. However, the court did not take any steps to remedy the unfairness and ruled against Begum when she argued that she should be allowed to enter the UK in order to take part in her appeal.

Begum challenged this ruling at a hearing in June, where Liberty told the court that citizenship-stripping is a draconian power, which exposes people to severe human rights violations. The Government can only remove people’s British citizenship in the way it removed Begum’s if a person is eligible for citizenship of another country. This means the power is used unevenly and is discriminatory.

The Court of Appeal also found, in line with Liberty’s submissions, that if Begum can participate in the her appeal, then it will be possible to explore the circumstances by which she left the UK to join ISIL at the age of 15, and whether she travelled to Syria of her own free will.

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 had 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 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 via written submissions.
  • This judgment does not mean that Begum’s appeal against her citizenship deprivation has been successful.
  • The Court of Appeal allowed Begum’s appeal against the refusal to grant her leave to enter the UK, and found that she should be permitted to enter the UK in order to pursue her appeal against the deprivation of her citizenship. The Court found that this is the only way that Begum’s deprivation appeal can be fair and effective. The Government had argued Begum should not be able to enter the UK, partly because she presents a threat to national security, but the Court found that national security concerns could be addressed and managed if she returns to the UK and fairness and justice must outweigh national security concerns in this case.
  • 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 ground that it was “conducive to the public good” in 2016, 104 in 2017, and 21 people in 2018.


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