On Tuesday, Shamima Begum’s legal team contended in front of the court of appeal that it was not justified to strip her of her British citizenship as she was a victim of trafficking at 15 years old when she departed for Islamic State territory in Syria.
Samantha Knights, represented by her barrister KC, argued during a three-day hearing that the Home Office and a lower court did not adequately assess whether she was groomed. She is seeking to have the decision overturned.
Sajid Javid, the former home secretary who revoked her citizenship, was accused by Knights of neglecting to assess whether Begum, who was a schoolgirl in east London at the time, was manipulated and exploited, thus violating the anti-slavery measures in British legislation.
“The appellant’s involvement in trafficking was a crucial factor in deciding if it was appropriate and justifiable to revoke her citizenship, however, it was not taken into account by the Home Office,” stated Knights in a written statement. “As a result, the decision to revoke her citizenship was illegal.”
Knights stated that the appeal court should reverse the initial decision made by the special immigration appeals commission (Siac) in February of this year, which upheld Javid’s ruling, for similar reasons.
The Siac court recognized that there was reasonable suspicion that Begum had been recruited, transferred, and harbored for the purpose of sexual exploitation. However, this was not enough for the commission to declare the home secretary’s decision unlawful in its ruling.
The Home Office is scheduled to present their evidence on Wednesday and is opposed to the claim based on national security reasons. They maintain that just because someone may have been influenced does not necessarily mean they are not a potential terrorist threat.
The three senior judges will preside over the hearing, which marks the next stage in an ongoing legal dispute stemming from Javid’s choice to strip Begum of her British citizenship in 2019. This decision was made after she was captured by Syrian Kurdish forces following the downfall of Islamic State.
In 2015, Begum departed from her residence in Bethnal Green, located in east London, with two friends from school. They journeyed to Syria to reside under the control of the Islamic State. In a post-terror group defeat interview, she stated, “I have no remorse for coming here.”
Javid’s decision to strip her of British citizenship was based on the belief that it would benefit the public, and that she would not be left without a nationality as she could obtain Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents. This was despite the fact that she had never been to Bangladesh and the country had expressed its rejection of her.
Begum is currently being held by Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria. She has expressed remorse for her actions and claims she would prefer death over returning to the Islamic State. She also stated that she is willing to stand trial in a British court for any terrorism charges if required.
The case has previously been presented to the supreme court, where Begum mostly received an unfavorable ruling. However, she was granted the opportunity to initiate a new legal proceeding if she could properly advise solicitors, resulting in the current series of cases.
The document submitted by Knights to the court of appeal claims that Begum was manipulated for several months before she departed the UK in February 2015, and that her journey was aided by a man who was affiliated with Isil (Islamic State) and also worked as an agent for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Begum was accompanied by a man named Mohammed al-Rashed at the Istanbul bus station on her way to Syria. This man has been recognized by British authorities as an informant for Canada’s CSIS intelligence agency.
Her attorneys also attributed her ability to leave the UK to “state failures,” pointing to the Metropolitan Police, her school, and the Tower Hamlets council as contributing factors due to their inadequacies.
Knights informed the court that the state’s failures in this situation were extremely relevant, considering the actions that could have been taken by state entities to safeguard the appellant and stop her from leaving the UK. It was also noted how quickly the appellant’s family responded once they were notified of her disappearance.
According to written arguments from Sir James Eadie KC, representing the Home Office, it is stated that the law granted Javid the power to use his judgement in considering various factors before making a decision to strip someone of their British citizenship.
The secretary of state was fully aware that she may have been influenced or radicalized before her trip, according to Eadie. The only thing left to consider was how much importance should be given to these factors. This was ultimately up to the secretary of state.
According to previous court proceedings, the British security service MI5 advised Javid that Begum had spent four years in Islamic State territory and had joined forces with the terror group until the age of 19. The agency also noted that public opinion in the UK is largely against her.
The court of appeal will wrap up oral arguments on Thursday and a verdict will be announced at a later time. The judges in charge are Chief Justice Carr, Justice Bean, and Justice Whipple.