Shamima Begum, the woman who left the UK as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State, believes her British citizenship should be restored because she cannot have a fair appeal against the government’s decision to strip her of it, the Court of Appeal has been told.
At the beginning of a two-day online hearing, her lawyers challenged a ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) this year that says she is not rendered stateless as she is entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship.
Begum was one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria in February 2015, to join Daesh* where she lived under its rule for more than three years.
She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year, prompting then home secretary Sajid Javid to revoke her British citizenship later that month.
Last year Begum took legal action against the Home Office and the decision of Siac, which hears challenges to decisions to remove a person’s British citizenship on national security grounds.
Begum says that her citizenship should be restored because she cannot have a “fair and effective appeal” from the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, where she is currently residing.
But the Home Office argues that the reason Ms Begum could not “fully engage” with her appeal “was a result of her decision to leave the UK, travel to Syria against Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and align with (IS)”.
The former Daesh bride, whose legal aid bill now amounts to £30,000,according to the Daily Mail, lost the first stage of her case against the government’s decision to revoke her citizenship in February.
Ms Begum is now launching an appeal, and lawyers told the Court of Appeal on Thursday that Ms Begum “was a child when she left the UK and had been influenced to do so”.
Opening her case, Tom Hickman QC said the key issue was whether the absence of “a fair or effective means of challenging the decision to deprive her of her British citizenship” made the decision unlawful.
He said the case breached “natural justice” as her appeal “cannot be pursued in a manner that satisfies even minimum requirements of fair procedure”.
Hickman said Begum’s case was “the first case in which Siac has held that an appellant cannot have a fair and effective appeal”.
The human rights organisation Liberty has intervened in her case to “uphold the right to a fair trial in the increasing use of ‘citizenship stripping’ by the Home Office”.
In a statement released outside the court, Katie Lines, a lawyer with Liberty, said: “Banishing someone is not the act of a responsible government … [It] has other powers at its disposal, including criminal law, which it can and should use to deal with those suspected of terrorism.
“Due process and the right to a fair trial is not a privilege to be handed out when the government sees fit. Ensuring we are all equal before the law is a principle that protects all of us,”as reported by the Guardian.
However Sir James Eadie QC, representing the Home Office, said in written submissions: “The fact that it might not be possible to mirror the level of access to legal advice that would be available if someone were at liberty in the UK does not mean proceedings are unfair”.
Judges are expected to make their decision from this appeal at a later date.
*Daesh (aka Islamic state/ISIS/ISIL) is a terrorist group banned in Russia