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Deprivation of British nationality, the case of Shamima Begun

Deprivation of British nationality with specific reference to Shamima Begum at present held somewhere in a refugee camp in northern Syria by Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors.

On 21 February 2019 the Home Secretary Sajid Javid deprived 19-year-old Shamima Begum of her British nationality on the basis that her presence in the UK was not conducive to the public good. Such a move under international law is only possible if an individual is eligible for citizenship elsewhere. Thus, it is illegal under international law to deprive someone of their nationality if to do so would leave that person stateless.

The 1951 Citizenship Act provides rights to Bangladeshi citizenship by descent to anyone who is born to a Bangladeshi parent and this right cannot be revoked by the individual until that person reaches 21. At that age, unless renewed it will automatically be deemed to have been revoked.  Therefore, the Home Secretary’s decision to remove British citizenship from this lady because of alleged extremism had not left her stateless at the time when the Home office letter of deprivation was served on her family and on file. It was served on file, as it could not be practically served on her although she has now knowledge of it as a copy has been shown to her by the Times reporter Anthony Loyed, who had originally tracked down to the refugee camp in Northern Syria, and her family lawyer has gone on record to say the family have instructed him to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.

Some deprivation precedents

The Supreme Court in the matter of Pham (the appellant), v SSHD [ 2015] UKSC 19, Judgement delivered 25th March 2015, dismissed Pham’s appeal. He was born in Vietnam and contended that the UK government had no right to strip him of his citizenship as the effect would be to leave him without nationality. Pham acquired British citizenship in 1995 after his family settled here from Hong Kong, and converted to Islam when he was 21.

Between December 2010 and July 2011, Pham was in Yemen where according to claims made by the security services, he was said to have received terrorist training from Al Qaeda. He denied these claims.

Theresa May, Home Secretary then, in December 2011 deprived Pham of his British nationality, because she was satisfied that this would be conducive to the public good. She considered that the depravation order did not make him stateless because he would retain Vietnamese citizenship.

The reason for her decision was that the security services assessed that he was involved in terrorism -related activities and had links to a number of Islamic extremists according to an earlier court ruling.

Pham challenged the decision and appealed to the special immigration appeals commission contending the decision would leave him stateless. He claimed that he was of good character and not linked to terrorism and argued that Vietnamese law did not permit dual nationality and so his Vietnamese citizenship was lost when he became a British citizen.

The commission upheld his case but the Home Secretary appealed arguing that the Vietnamese government had been incorrect to say that he was not one of their citizens.

The Supreme Court dismissed Pham’s appeal and backed the Home Secretary’s decision.

One of the Supreme Court Judges Lord Sumption noted that the Home Secretary would only have been precluded from withdrawing his citizenship in December 2011 if he had been rendered stateless as a result. Since Mr Pham unquestionably had Vietnamese citizenship at the time of his birth in Vietnam he must still have had it on 22 December 2011 unless something had happened to take it away.

The government of Vietnam was entitled to withdraw his nationality but no one suggested that they had done so at any rate by the relevant date.

By contrast, to the Supreme Court blocked a Home Office attempt to revoke the British citizenship of two Bangladeshis in 2017 suspected of terrorism. The court ruled that making them stateless would be illegal. The special immigration appeals commission allowed an appeal by two men code-named E 3 and N 4 at closed hearings where their lawyers and government representatives battled over their status. The government argued they were dual British Bangladeshi nationals but Mr Justice Jay ruled that depravation orders had rendered them stateless and therefore violated international law.  E3, a 30-year-old man was born in the UK to Bangladeshi parents and received the order in June 2017. He had been working in Britain and supported his family in Bangladesh and had his citizenship removed while visiting the country for the birth of his second child his lawyer said.

In October 2017 N4 was deprived of his citizenship after travelling to Turkey for business for a few weeks his lawyer said. The 35-year-old was born in Bangladesh but was a British citizen by birth and remained in Turkey. The commission found that Bangladeshi law required them to apply to retain their citizenship at 21 but they had failed to do so, and thus left with only British nationality.

Therefore, even if the Bangladeshi government endeavour now to revoke the citizenship of Begum by descent, when the Home Secretary revoked her citizenship this had not been done. At the time of that decision she had not been made stateless, and had duel nationality.

In any event Begum will be barred from using her baby’s British citizenship as a backdoor route to return to the UK. At the time of the child’s birth Begum was a British citizen. Her citizenship had not been revoked. The child is a British citizen. The child was born at the weekend before his 19-year-old mother was stripped of her British citizenship on the following Tuesday.   As the Home Secretary confirmed if a parent does lose their citizenship it does not affect the rights of their child.

Conclusion

The Home Secretary does not use deprivation powers lightly. In this case he had consulted with specialists before issuing the letter. Begum has now 28 days to appeal the decision with grounds of appeal. In order to act in her best interests, before such grounds are settled, it would be crucial for lawyers to fly over to that part of Syria where she remains in order to take proper instructions.

Obviously, there is no British consulate near the refugee camp where Begum remains, the nearest being either Iraq, Turkey or indeed the Lebanon, and whilst the British government is under no obligation to make arrangements for her to go to an area where there are consulate facilities, if she is to be properly represented, she will need to have regular meetings with her lawyers. This can be difficult, costly (no doubt for the state as I cannot envisage a case of this legal significance being fought on anything other than public funds), and impractical. She will undoubtedly need conferences with counsel and solicitors from time to time. The distance and the lack of communication and the impracticalities could cause difficulties in putting forward a convincing defence. Short of making her own way to an area where there is a British consulate, she has no choice but to remain in the current refugee camp, although is free to leave the camp at any time she pleases.

Should you have any concerns about British nationality please do not hesitate to contact Gulbenkian Andonian solicitors for advice and assistance.