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Why did the Supreme Court rule against Shamima Begum returning to the UK?

Why did the Supreme Court rule against Shamima Begum returning to the UK?

Shamima Begum cannot return to the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court has ruled, with the Court deferring to the judgement of the Home Secretary on national security matters.

An extremely controversial case, Ms Begum left the United Kingdom in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria, having been groomed by the terrorist organisation online. Her nationality had been stripped by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid in 2019, with the Court of Appeal having previously ruled that it would only be fair for her to be allowed to return to the United Kingdom, as she could not effectively appeal the ruling from Syria.

She has been living in a camp controlled by armed guards in northern Syria for some years, where she had lost a baby back in early 2019 – she previously lost two other children.

The Court of Appeal decision – the second most senior court in the U.K. legal system – said that her right to a fair trial was the most important consideration in the case, however, the Supreme Court disagreed. The Court laid down a long-held precedent that national security matters are for the government to decide and stated that the Court of Appeal had not given full consideration to the reasoning of the Home Office.

They also stated that the Court of Appeal mistakenly believed that the right to a fair hearing must prevail over that of national security, with Lord Reed stating that a right to a fair hearing did ‘not Trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public’.

The decision of the Supreme Court has been criticised by many for rejecting rule of law and one of its most fundamental pillars – that of the right to a fair trial. However, the Courts have often opted out of ruling on national security issues, instead stating that they are the realm of the government.

The Begum case is particularly controversial, as the camp she is living in does not allow access to lawyers, meaning that it is additionally difficult for her to appeal the decision to remove her citizenship. Many in a similar situation in the past have been able to appeal decisions against them whilst outside of the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court judgement essentially means that her case will be paused until such time as she can find a way to fight the case – that may, however, be never.

Unlike many have suggested, this case is not a ruling on her citizenship, only that it is not for the courts to decide whether she is a security risk or not, preventing her from returning her to the United Kingdom if the Home Office - currently led by Home Secretary Priti Patel - does not deem her safe to be in the country.

There may well be a way established in the future for Ms Begum to fight the case for her citizenship, however, this ruling means that her ability to appeal the decision will be paused indefinitely.

The government has been heavily criticised for their decision to strip Ms Begum of her citizenship and to prevent her from returning to the United Kingdom. By doing so, the United Kingdom are effectively making her stateless, with many suggesting that the United Kingdom has a duty to protect her as she was a U.K. citizen before leaving for Syria.

People have also criticised the government and suggested that the decision over whether she has a right to return is a calculated attempt to keep her stateless for an indefinite period of time. Maya Foa, the director of the human rights group Reprieve said that the government did so in order to make her ‘someone else’s responsibility’.

Ms Begum was trafficked to join ISIS in her teenage years and many believe that the government has a duty to protect her and to give her the right to a fair trial under U.K. law, however, others have suggested that her ties to ISIS make her too dangerous to return to the United Kingdom - a point of view that is currently held by the Home Office.

The decision to and her subsequent inability to return and appeal has been criticised as unlawful, however, the Supreme Court simply asserted that it was not for them to decide whether she was a national security risk. It is a decision for the government.

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