By Kit Roberts
LAST week, following an appeal by the Foreign Office, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that ISIS bride Shamima Begum should not be permitted to return to the UK to fight her appeal.
The decision came after the Court of Appeal had ruled that the best way to proceed with the case would be to allow Begum to return to face trial.
The Foreign Office, which under Sajid Javid had removed Begum’s British citizenship in 2019, appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision. Their appeal was upheld, meaning, Begum will not be allowed to return to the UK, and will effectively remain stateless.
The backlash from legal experts has rightly been damning. Leaving aside the fact that Begum was fifteen when she left the country and was groomed and abused during her time with ISIS, the decision sets a worrying legal precedent.
By having her citizenship revoked, Begum has effectively been punished for a crime of which she has not been convicted. Although the evidence against her is overwhelming, in appealing for this outcome, the government has disregarded the justice system and abdicated the legal responsibility for Begum.
No matter the crime, Begum has a right to a fair trial in her country of origin.
In upholding this appeal, the Supreme Court has effectively allowed unhindered executive power to completely dictate the direction of one individual’s life. When an individual cannot rely on their Secretary of State to protect their rights, then they must turn to the courts. Without the courts, there is nothing to stop the executive, the government, from making life changing decisions completely unchecked.
The system of checks and balances that protects against a government seeking to act illegally or in a way that ignores the rights of its own citizens is damaged by this decision.
Many people will feel that Begum deserves this treatment because of the decisions she made at the age of 15.
If there is no doubt about any of the facts around this, then fine, let this decision lie. But if there is anything contestable here, if there is more than one view on this case, then this decision has bypassed the due process that protects the rights of UK citizens.
What is particularly disturbing is that it appears to be the nature of Begum’s crimes that has merited this draconian treatment. UK citizens commit an array of appalling crimes every year of startling severity and variety. But these criminals, no matter how sickening their actions may have been, are nonetheless granted the due process to ensure that what they have done is punished according to the law.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said: “You may think any one of those steps is reasonable, but taken together they give the Secretary of State almost ultimate power over that individual’s future.
“You may think a woman who took a decision as a child to do something terrible deserves the exercise of such power.
“But if you have a inkling that there may be two sides to the argument, it is essential that the courts do everything they can to hear both sides.”
This is a case of the British government stripping a person of their citizenship, despite their being born here, and refusing to try them for their actions.
It is a triumph of empty rhetoric over upholding legal principles set in place to protect British citizens. Even if the evidence of a case is overwhelming, administering punishment without hearing all sides and establishing the facts is at best irresponsible and worst outright dangerous.
Many might say that criminals deserve everything they get, that their actions forfeit their rights. They would do well to ask themselves what they hope would happen if they were to find themselves in the dock. Would they still think that merely being suspected of a crime should be enough to condemn them?
There is also an assumption that Begum would pose a security risk, when in fact, she could be a potential asset to the security services. Talk to her, ask her what made her do what she did and use that information to stop others falling victim in the same way. Simply refusing to take responsibility for her needlessly throws away a potential asset in protecting British civilians.
So in addition to being legally dangerous, the decision is also strategically shortsighted.
Ultimately though, whatever you think about the actions of Shamima Begum, whether she is a national security threat or a foolish manipulated teenager, or whether she “made her own bed”, frankly does not matter. It is just so much hot air, a public image campaign to make a government appear ‘tough’ on crime.
The nature of Begum’s actions should have no bearing on her entitlement to a fair hearing. It is deeply disturbing that so many people are willing to allow this principle to slip purely because of their own feelings about Begum’s actions and her identity.
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