Any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are taken by the Home Secretary on the basis of all available evidence and not taken lightly. Shamima’s case established the fact that British citizenship is now a privilege, not a right. The UK Government now has the power to strip people of their British citizenship, even if they are British-born…writes Barrister M. A. Muid Khan
“Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.” (The UK Home Office, 22nd December 2013)
In February 2015, Shamima Begum, a British Citizen girl, at the age of 15 left the UK as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State in Syria. She left the UK with two other teenagers, and travelled to Syria to join Isis. Shamima married the Dutch Isis fighter Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in Isis territory who are foreign fighters in the terrorist group. She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
Shamima is now 20 years old. The then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, stripped her of her British citizenship later that month. The removal of citizenship means the 20-year-old has no right to enter the UK or gain a British passport, and cannot request assistance to leave the Syrian camp.
Under section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, as amended in 2006, the home secretary may make an order depriving a person of citizenship status if they are “satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”. No reasons need be given and no court approval is required.
Shamima launched a legal challenge against the decision of the then Home Secretary. On 7th February 2020, she has lost the initial stage of her appeal against the Home Office’s decision to revoke her British Citizenship.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission refused her appeal asserting that that she had not been improperly deprived of her citizenship. The judgment prevents her from returning to London. The judges unanimously concluded that the decision to strip Begum of her citizenship did not make her stateless because she was entitled to, or in effect held, Bangladeshi citizenship.
In the light of Shamima’s case question arises is British citizenship a privilege or a right? Shamima’s case established the fact that British citizenship is no longer a right & now the UK Government now has power to strip people of their British citizenship, even if they are British-born.
Reasons to remove British citizenship
The main use of the power to remove British citizenship is to strip those who are strongly believed to have links to terrorist organisations from returning to Britain if they travel to the likes of Syria or Libya.
The United Kingdom experienced six terrorist attacks in 2017, five at the hands of Muslim extremists. The sixth attack, which claimed the life of one person and injured ten others, was directed at Muslim worshippers near Finsbury Park Mosque, was committed by Darren Osborne, who had previously professed his hatred for Muslims.
The UK Home Secretary has the power to deprive a person of British citizenship, under Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981(as amended) in any of the following scenarios: (1) she considers that deprivation of citizenship is ‘conducive to the public good’, and would not make the person stateless;
(2) The person obtained his citizenship through registration or naturalisation, and the Home Secretary is satisfied that this was obtained by fraud, false representation or the concealment of a material fact;
(3) The person obtained his citizenship through naturalisation, and the Home Secretary (a) considers that deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person has conducted themselves ‘in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory’; and (b) has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is able to become a national of another country or territory under its laws.
In the second and third scenarios, deprivation of citizenship is permissible even if the person would be left stateless.
Official statistics show that the UK government’s use of powers to remove British Citizenship has soared by more than 600 per cent in a year. The UK citizenship deprivations were used only a handful of times a year, until they rocketed from 14 people in 2016 to 104 in 2017. Samima is one of more than 150 people subjected to the measure for the “public good” since 2010.
Appeal against deprivation of citizenship
It is to be noted that to ensure fairness and justice, those who are the subject of a deprivation of citizenship order can appeal to the First Tier Tribunal against the Home Secretary’s decision. Appeals must be made to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission where the Home Secretary considers that the information she relied on should not be made public.
Shamima appealed against the decision of the Home Secretary. However, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission refused her appeal asserting that that she had not been improperly deprived of her citizenship.
Passport withdrawn & Judicial Review:
As British passports are issued at the Home Secretary’s discretion, there is no right of appeal against a decision to withdraw passport facilities. However, a person whose passport is withdrawn may seek a judicial review of the Home Secretary’s decision.
It is to be noted that the Huma Rights groups are raising their concern about Parliament granting the Executive power to render a person stateless under Section 40 of the British Nationality Act. Therefore, it may be the courts would rule such draconian methods as unlawful if a challenge under a deprivation of citizenship claim is brought in the future.
The UK Home Secretary has clearly stated that his priority is the safety and security of Britain and the people who live here. The powers of the British Nationality Act 1981, section 40 should not be underestimated.
According to the Home Secretary, the desire to protect British streets from potential terrorist overrides Human Rights concerns. In order to protect the UK, the Home Secretary has the power to deprive someone of their British citizenship where it would not render them stateless. Any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are taken by the Home Secretary on the basis of all available evidence and not taken lightly. Shamima’s case established the fact that British citizenship is now a privilege not a right. The UK Government now has the power to strip people of their British citizenship, even if they are British-born.
(The writer is a Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer of CILEX. He was crowned with the CILEX PRESIDENT AWARD 2016. Bar Council, Law Society & CILEX, also declared him as the Best Human Rights Lawyer of England & Wales. He can be contacted at email@example.com )