Case Study: Shamima Begum (2021)

In 2015, Shamima Begum, then aged 15, travelled to Syria with two other girls so that she could join Islamic State. In 2019, the then home secretary, Sajid Javid, removed her British citizenship on the grounds that she was a threat to national security. In 2020, the Court of Appeal judged that Ms Begum be allowed to return to the UK so that she could appeal the judgment. The Home Office responded that if this was allowed it ‘would create significant national security risks’. When the case went to the Supreme Court, the then lord president, Lord Reed, found in favour of the home secretary. According to Lord Reed, the court of appeal was wrong when  it stated 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’. Instead, in a judgment remarkably like Lord Denning’s in the Hosenball case (1977), he stated that the right to a fair hearing did ‘not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public’.

Even though it is clear that Begum had been trafficked for sexual exploitation as a child, the effect of the supreme court ruling was that the commission’s judges considered themselves unable to contradict the home secretary unless it found a mistake in the decision-making process.

Begum's lawyers said: “Reading the factual underpinning of what the commission considers to be made out on Ms Begum’s behalf, you would feel there would be no way that she could not have succeeded in her appeal, but you will equally see repeated as a thread through the judgment how the commission invokes the supreme court’s view that its role was limited and cannot consider the merits of the case – it’s limited to the most narrow grounds of administrative review.”

This debate between Piers Morgan and defence lawyer Aamer Anwar over whether Shamima Begum should  be been allowed back into the UK to maintain her British citizenship, provides a good illustration of the principle of the 'Rule of Law'. Piers does not understand its true meaning and seems to think the rule of law mean 'anything which the law rules'. There are courts in many countries, making rulings where there is no 'Rule of Law'.

The UK supreme court reversed a decision by the court of appeal, judged that she is not entitled to have her British citizenship restored, and that she should not be allowed to return to the UK to fight her case in person. 

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) previously acknowledged "credible suspicion" that Begum was trafficked for "sexual exploitation," hinting at potential victimhood. However, despite this, she was denied the opportunity to return to the UK to challenge the decision. The Home Office's argument that she could become a citizen of Bangladesh, despite never having visited the country and Bangladesh refusing to accept her as a citizen, raises serious concerns about the approach to statelessness in the UK 

Without UK intervention Begum will remain indefinitely in the Roj detention camp, which is under armed guard. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN's special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, has estimated that at the current rate of repatriation, it would take 20 years for the camps in north-east Syria to close.