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United Kingdom Supreme Court, [2021] UKSC 7, 26 February 2021 (Begum)

United Kingdom Supreme Court, [2021] UKSC 7, 26 February 2021 (Begum)

With the judgment R (on the application of Begum) v. Special Immigration Appeals Commission and others [2021] UKSC 7, 26 February 2021, the United Kingdom Supreme Court (UKSC) ruled on the controversial case of Shamima Begum, a British/Bangladeshi dual national who, in 2015, travelled to Syria in order to join the Islamic State.

In 2019, the Home Secretary issued an order depriving Shamima Begum of her British citizenship on national security grounds and banning her from re-entering the British territory.

Shamima Begum challenged the citizenship-stripping decision as well as the prohibition to re-enter the United Kingdom before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). In fact, her lawyers argued that the impossibility to attend hearings would prevent her from having a fair and effective appeal against the order revoking her citizenship.

After a complex and lengthy judicial path before the SIAC, the Divisional Court and the England and Wales Court of Appeals, which decided in favour of Shamima Begum for some aspects and of the Home Secretary for others, the case reached the UKSC, whose ruling can be synthesised as follows.

First, the Court highlighted that the Home Secretary has wide discretion to determine when a person represents a threat for national security, and this decision can be struck down by a court of law only when it is manifestly irrational.

Second, the UKSC held that procedural rights of individuals cannot prevail over national security. Therefore, if national security needs prevent a case from being fairly heard, the proceeding should be stayed until the concerned person is able to participate in it without public safety being endangered. However, the Court did not give any detail on when this will be possible. Consequently, Shamima Begum is currently stuck in a Syrian refugee camp and her appeal against the deprivation decision has been stayed.


(Comment by Chiara Graziani)