Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to challenge the revocation of her citizenship, judges have ruled.
The now-20-year-old, who travelled as a schoolgirl to live under Isis, wants to appeal the Home Office decision to revoke her citizenship and claimed it made her stateless and exposed her to real risk of death or inhuman or degrading treatment.
Sajid Javid, the then-home secretary, made the decision on national security grounds in February 2019. Begum had not been allowed to return to appeal the decision.
On Thursday, judges at the Court of Appeal said “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”.
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.”
In its ruling, the court said Begum “could be arrested and charged upon her arrival in the United Kingdom and remanded in custody pending trial” if thought necessary.
Begum was a teenager when she went to Syria in February 2015 to live under the terror group’s rule for three years before being found pregnant in a refugee camp last year.
She was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy in London who left their families to join Isis.
They flew via Gatwick to Istanbul before travelling to Raqqa, Isis’s declared capital. She claimed she married a Dutch convert, Yago Riedijk, 10 days after arriving in Isis-controlled territory.
She told The Times she left the city in January 2017 with her husband and children, who have both since died. Her third child died shortly after being born.
Begum is now in the al-Roj camp in Syria. She has since said she regrets her actions and was “brainwashed” by Isis, and pleaded for a second chance.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled in February that the decision to revoke her citizenship was lawful because she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent” at the time.
Her bid to return to the UK to pursue her appeal was also rejected by the High Court.
Her barrister, Tom Hickman QC, told the Court of Appeal in a previous hearing that removing Begum’s citizenship meant she faced being sent to Bangladesh or Iraq, where she faced “extra-judicial killing at the hands of the police” or “a wholly unfair and predetermined ‘trial’ and an immediate sentence of death”.
He said Javid was told Begum could not have a fair appeal when he decided to revoke her citizenship, and an appeal should be permitted because it “cannot be pursued in a manner that satisfies even minimum requirements of fair procedure”.
Hickman has also said the situation at al-Roj was “incredibly fragile and dangerous” and described conditions there as “wretched and squalid”.
Sir James Eadie QC, for the Home Office, said previously that Begum’s inability to “fully engage” with the appeal procedure “was a result of her decision to leave the UK, travel to Syria against Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and align with Isil”.
He added: “This led to her being held in conditions akin to detention in a foreign state at the hands of a third party, the Syrian Defence Force.
“It was not the result of any action by the secretary of state and the deprivation decision did not have any causative impact on the appellant in this respect.”
Lord Justice Flaux 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.”
A Home Office spokeswoman 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.
“The government’s top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe.”