Shamima Begum, the 20-year-old woman who left east London as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State, should be allowed to return to the UK to challenge the Home Office’s decision to revoke her British citizenship in person.
The court of appeal partially overturned an earlier ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) this year, which held that she had not been illegally rendered stateless while she was in Syria because she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship.
Concluding, Lord Justice Flaux said: “Notwithstanding the national security concerns about Ms Begum, 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”.
The judge added: “Fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns.”
The court of appeal also said Siac had failed to consider the evidence properly when it had made its initial decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship, because it had not assessed the “risk of transfer to Iraq and Bangladesh and mistreatment there”.
Flaux and the two other judges on the court, in a unanimous ruling, concluded that Siac should hear the citizenship case again – although the court acknowledged Begum may be at risk of being charged with terror offences if she does return.
The government said it would appeal against the ruling and apply for the court’s judgement to be stayed until then. A Home Office spokesperson said: “This is a very disappointing decision by the court. We will now apply for permission to appeal this judgment, and to stay its effects pending any onward appeal.”
Begum left Bethnal Green in London with two teenage friends in 2015 to join Isis, when the terror group was at its height. Four years later, after its territorial defeat, she was found in a Syrian refugee camp, nine months pregnant.
Sajid Javid, the home secretary at the time, stripped her of her British citizenship later that month, arguing she had the right to become a Bangladeshi citizen, the birth country of her parents. Begum had never visited Bangladesh.
That prompted a high-profile legal battle in which Begum’s lawyers also argued she could not properly defend herself because she remained in a camp in north-east Syria, unable to properly contact her lawyers.
Begum’s child Jarrah died shortly after Javid’s decision was announced. She has said she had two other children while living under Isis, but they also died. In February she was pictured living in a heated tent in the al-Roj camp in Syria.
British security sources argue Begum represents a security risk, and that she was a member of al-Hisba, Isis’s morality police, during which time she carried a Kalashnikov rifle and had a reputation for strictness. Begum also allegedly “stitched suicide bombers into explosive vests”.
Begum’s lawyer, Daniel Furner of Birnberg Peirce solicitors, said the ruling would allow the young woman to “give her side of the story”. He added: “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.”