LONDON: The latest stage of a UK Home Office strategy to strip Britons of their citizenship over terror offenses has been defeated in court.
Following a legal challenge by a woman who had allegedly joined Daesh after traveling to Syria, The England and Wales Court of Appeal found that it was unlawful to remove people’s nationality without providing proper notice.
Identified in legal records only as D4, the woman is being held in a Syrian prisoner camp, Al-Roj, and was not informed by UK authorities that her British citizenship had been removed for more than 10 months.
The Home Office had previously appealed a decision made by the High Court, which ruled that the stripping of D4’s citizenship was “void and of no effect.”
The court heard that D4 has been imprisoned in Al-Roj since January 2019, together with other women and children who were captured when fleeing former Daesh territories.
But a year later, when D4 requested repatriation to the UK through her solicitors, she was informed that her citizenship had been stripped a year earlier, and her request was refused.
D4 then appealed to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and started judicial review proceedings in the High Court.
And in the latest ruling, Lady Justice Whipple said on Wednesday: “There may be good policy reasons for empowering the home secretary to deprive a person of citizenship without giving notice, but such a step is not lawful under this legislation.
“If the government wishes to empower the secretary in that way, it must persuade parliament to amend the primary legislation. That is what it is currently seeking to do under the Nationality and Borders Bill — it is for parliament to decide.”
She added that the architects of the 1981 British Nationality Act “deliberately structured the process for depriving someone of their citizenship to include minimum safeguards for the individual.
“The 1981 Act does not confer powers of such breadth that the home secretary can deem notice to have been given where no step at all has been taken to communicate the notice to the person concerned, and the order has simply been put on the person’s Home Office file.”
The controversial Nationality and Borders Bill, spearheaded by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, would remove the requirement to give notice of citizenship deprivation under certain conditions.
These include if a home secretary “does not have the information needed to be able to give notice,” if a notice would “not be reasonably practicable” or if it was “not in the interests of national security or in the interests of the relationship between the UK and another country.”
The Home Office is now seeking permission to appeal the judgment at the Supreme Court.
An official statement said: “The government will not apologize for removing the citizenship of terrorists, those involved in serious and organized crime and those who seek to do us harm.
“Citizenship deprivation only happens after very careful consideration of the facts and in accordance with international law. Each case is assessed individually on its own merits and always comes with the right to appeal.”
Britons who joined Daesh make up the majority of the more than 150 people who have had their citizenship stripped since 2014.
Jonathan Hall QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said in a report that the stripping of citizenship “has been a major part of the UK’s response to those who have travel led to Daesh-controlled areas.”
The government is “cynically attempting to circumvent the courts” through the Nationality and Borders Bill, the legal charity Reprieve has warned.
Reprieve director Maya Foa said: “It would render this ruling moot, making a mockery of the rule of law. Ministers should change course and recognize that depriving people of their citizenship without even telling them is an affront to British principles of justice and fairness.”
In 2018, in an effort to circumvent protocol, the Home Office deemed that notice could be recognized as given if a citizenship deprivation record was filed internally.
But in last year’s High Court judgment against the government, Mr. Justice Chamberlain said: “As a matter of ordinary language, you do not ‘give’ someone ‘notice’ of something by putting the notice in your desk drawer and locking it.
“No one who understands English would regard that purely private act as a way of ‘giving notice’.”