ISIS bride Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to challenge the deprivation of her British citizenship, senior judges have ruled.
The Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday 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 Home Office, which revoked her citizenship last year, hit out at the court ruling as “very disappointing” and said it would pursue an appeal.
She lived under Islamic State rule for more than three years before she was found, nine months pregnant, at the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria in February last year. She told reporters she didn’t regret joining ISIS, but begged to be rescued and brought back to the UK.
Then home secretary Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship on national security grounds later that month.
Ms Begum, whose three children and ISIS fighter husband all died, is now living at the al-Roj refugee camp in Syria.
She took legal action against the Home Office, claiming the decision was unlawful because it rendered her stateless and exposed her to a real risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.
It is said Thursday’s ruling opens the door for other ISIS brides and fighters to make similar attempts to return to Britain.
It means the Government must find a way to allow Ms Begum to travel to the UK to appear in court in London despite insisting it would offer no assistance to rescue her from Syria.
Lord Justice Flaux – sitting with Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh – said: “Fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns, so that the leave to enter appeals should be allowed.”
The judge found that “the national security concerns about her could be addressed and managed if she returns to the United Kingdom”.
In its ruling, the court said: “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.”
Lord Justice Flaux also said: “With due respect to SIAC, it is unthinkable that, having concluded that Ms Begum could not take any meaningful part in her appeal so that it could not be fair and effective, she should have to continue with her appeal nonetheless.”
He added: “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 court also found that if Ms Begum can participate in the her appeal then it will be possible to explore the circumstances of her departure from he UK to join ISIS and whether she travelled to Syria of her own free will.
After the ruling was announced, Ms Begum’s solicitor, Daniel Furner said: “The court’s judgment today is an important reminder that fairness and the rule of law remain cornerstones of the British legal system, and that they set the legal limits within which the Home Secretary may act.
“Justice cannot be defeated, or indefinitely delayed, because a case is difficult or because national security is engaged. Fundamental rights are not extinguished because a person is abroad, or because the allegations against them are serious.
“As important as the re‐iteration of those centuries’ old principles was the court’s unqualified rejection of the Home Secretary’s argument that the impediments to Ms Begum’s participation in her appeal were of her own making.
“As the court said, approaching the case on that basis risks putting the cart before the horse.
“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.”
A spokeswoman for the Home Office, now led by Priti Patel, said after Thursday’s ruling was announced: “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.
“The government’s top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe.”
The ruling was hailed by civil liberties groups, including Liberty, which intervened in Ms Begum’s appeal.