Shamima Begum should be let back into the UK to fight to keep British passport, judges rule

Tristan Kirk, Imogen Braddick
·4-min read
Shamima Begum has reportedly fled her refugee camp with her baby: PA
Shamima Begum has reportedly fled her refugee camp with her baby: PA

Islamic State bride Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to fight to regain her British citizenship, senior judges ruled today.

Begum, right, was 15 when she left Britain with two friends to join IS in 2015, marrying a jihadi fighter in Syria and spending more than three years in terrorist-controlled territory.

After news broke in February last year that she was in a Syrian refugee camp, then home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of British citizenship on national security grounds.

Begum, who grew up in east London, was denied permission to fly back to the UK to challenge the decision, and a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) then ruled that she had not been rendered stateless by Mr Javid’s decision as she is “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent”.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal today ruled that the case had been mishandled, and Begum should be given the chance to bring an appeal in person in the UK.

“I have reached the firm conclusion that given that the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal, fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns”, said Lord Justice Flaux.

The judge, sitting with Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh, found that “the national security concerns about her could be addressed and managed if she returns to the United Kingdom”.

Sajid Javid revoked Shamima's British citizenship on security grounds last year (BBC)
Sajid Javid revoked Shamima's British citizenship on security grounds last year (BBC)

“If the Security Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions consider that the evidence and public interest tests for a prosecution for terrorist offences are met, she could be arrested and charged upon her arrival in the United Kingdom and remanded in custody pending trial”, he added.

The judges found that SIAC should not have dealt with Begum’s appeal without her, saying: “It is difficult to conceive of any case where a court or tribunal has said we cannot hold a fair trial, but we are going to go on anyway.”

The government had fought the case, insisting that proper process had been followed and Ms Begum had been the architect of her own situation rather than the decision taken by Mr Javid.

Ms Begum, now 20, was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who flew from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, on February 17 2015, before making their way to Raqqa in Syria.

She has told journalists she married IS fighter Yago Riedijk within ten days of arriving in the terrorist-controlled territory, and openly discussed life under the extremist regime.

Shamima travelled to Syria in 2015 (Photo by Laura Lean - WPA Pool/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Shamima travelled to Syria in 2015 (Photo by Laura Lean - WPA Pool/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Ms Begum said she had two children with Mr Riedijk but they have since died. She was heavily pregnant when news of her situation broke, but the third child also died shortly after being born.

The court today found that neither Mr Javid not SIAC had considered the risks of serious injury or death that Ms Begum faces in the refugee camp or if transferred to Bangladesh or Iraq. The case will now be sent back to SIAC to be considered afresh.

Daniel Furner, Shamima Begum's solicitor, said the judgement was an "important reminder that fairness and the rule of law remain cornerstones of the British legal system".

"Justice cannot be defeated, or indefinitely delayed, because a case is difficult or because national security is engaged," he said in a statement.

"Fundamental rights are not extinguished because a person is abroad, or because the allegations against them are serious."


He added: "Ms Begum has never had a fair opportunity to give her side of the story. The court itself noted the ‘obvious’ difference between interviews given to journalists, and instructions provided to a solicitor in court proceedings.

"Ms Begum is not afraid of facing British justice, she welcomes it. But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice – it is the opposite."

Human rights organisation Liberty, which intervened in Ms Begum’s appeal, welcomed the ruling.

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 is critical that cruel and irresponsible Government decisions can be properly challenged and overturned."

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