Jonathan Sumption

The case for Shamima Begum


February 23, 2024
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On 23 February, the UK’s Court of Appeal rejected the case of Shamima Begum to have her British citizenship reinstated. The 15-year-old schoolgirl had run away in 2015 to join the Islamic State and marry a jihadi. In 2019, the Home Secretary revoked her British citizenship, on the grounds that she had a Bangladeshi passport — and she’s been fighting to return home ever since.

Is this new ruling a victory for national security, or a wound to the legal premise of liberty?

Former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption, one of the great legal minds of his generation, joined Freddie Sayers to discuss the case.


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Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago

“Is this new ruling a victory for national security, or a wound to the legal premise of liberty?” Neither. It is simply confirms that that depriving Shamima of UK nationality is a valid application of the British Nationality Act 1981.
Lord Sumption claims that her Bangladeshi citizenship is a “legal fiction” an “empty legal husk”. That is not true. The constitution of Bangladesh is available in English on the Website of the Government of Bangladesh. The constitution states quite clearly that the children of Bangladeshi citizens qualify for citizenship of Bangladesh. There are no exceptions. It is other countries’ constitutions to which the Secretary of State refers when he/she determines whether or not an individual becomes stateless when deprived of UK citizenship.
Her legal team could have told her to take up the offer of Bangladeshi citizenship, but they didn’t. Presumably this was brinkmanship.
The whole point of the Nationality Act was to create several ways for people to become UK citizens and the power to strip individuals of citizenship was a quid pro quo. If Lord Sumption, etc. now say that the Secretary of State should not wield that power, then a whole load of immigrants should never have been given UK citizenship in the first place.
The British Nationality Act does not mention trafficing. If Lord Sumption thinks that Act should be updated, then he should make that case. The Secretary of State can only work within the existing law.

David McKee
David McKee
4 months ago

The basic point here is where Ms. Begum was born. And she was born in Britain. That alone makes her British, just as it makes all of us born in Britain, British. Yet, because of who her parents were, a British government felt entitled to deprive her of her citizenship. It has nothing to do with her activities in the Middle East, as she has not been convicted of any crime. Until then, the legal maxim is ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
Could this happen to anyone else? Yes, and that’s the whole point. If this was just one isolated instance, which had no possible ramifications for anyone else, no one would much care. But it is not an isolated instance.
If either of your parents migrated to the UK, it could happen to you.
If you’re Jewish, it could happen to you (as Israel will accept any stateless Jew).
If you were born in Northern Ireland, it could happen to you (as the Irish Republic extends citizenship to anyone born in the island of Ireland).
Potentially, several million people would have to live with the knowledge that their British citizenship is permanently provisional.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Hello David. Your comment is a criticism of the British Nationality Act 1981, but it is not a correct statement of the law in the UK. The relevant section of the Act states that “the Secretary of State is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory, and
(c) the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory…”
Obviously, you are entitled to criticise the current law, but when the Secretary of Sate makes these decisions, he/she does so according to the law as it stands.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Absolutely agree with this. If she has broken any laws, or if she is a security threat, throw her in prison.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

She has broken Syrian laws in Syria. Apart from stealing a passport, what UK law has she broken?
You cannot “throw her in prison” for being a “security threat” because just being perceived as a threat is not against UK law.

William Cameron
William Cameron
4 months ago

It is an offence to aid a proscribed organisation – ISIS

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago

So why have less than 1 in 10 ISIS returnees been prosecuted?

0 0
0 0
4 months ago

She joined a terrorist organization

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

What like Wikileak journalists? Wait till demagoguery becomes a crime then you’ll be in trouble…

Will Whitman
Will Whitman
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

In theory, she is in a prison of sorts. Perhaps Bangladesh will take her someday, but that isn’t our problem. She rolled her dice, she lost.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

You pose several scenarios; what if you’re a migrant, Jewish, or NI born? Well, it could, if the Home Secretary is given grounds to think you’re a threat to national security, but it never has, has it? And the HS must have such grounds, even if secret, because that’s the way we run things, here, he doesn’t decide this on a ‘whim’.
Of course, many NI citizens are or have been security threats, but Ireland and the UK have an agreement to grant equivalent rights of citizenship to each other, so deportation can’t happen.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
4 months ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

WE WERE LOCKED DOWN for goodness sake! Why this trust in a clearly corrupt and inept government?

William Cameron
William Cameron
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

I think if she was charged she would be convicted of terrorism.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

And a good thing too.
It does not matter where you are born.
My sons’ grandmother was born in India. it does not make her Indian

Gayle Rosenthal
Gayle Rosenthal
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Your scenario also does not account for the fraud of birthright tourism when a person enters legally, overstays and gives birth for the purpose of defrauding teh laws of the country, or comes illegally and gives birth without the privilege of citizenship.

0 0
0 0
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Not true. Just being born in Britain does not automatically make one British. There is the stipulation that one of the parents must be legally British

Jane H
Jane H
4 months ago
Reply to  0 0

Correct. You take the nationality of your father. My daughter was born in Kuwait but she’s not Kuwaiti nationality.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago

From a point of view of common sense (the law is notoriously an ass) taking away the only citizenship a person has means leaving her stateless. Claiming that she might be able to get another citizenship is indeed a legal fiction. I have no sympathy for Ms Begum and would not mourn her if she fell down a sewer and drowned, but she is and was British, and it is not acceptable to take away thatcitizenship, much as one might wish it was.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Hello Rasmus. You say “Claiming that she might be able to get another citizenship is indeed a legal fiction.” You have simply decided to call it a legal fiction, but can I politely suggest that you look again at the wording of the relevant part of the Nationality Act: “the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory.” The Secretary of State does indeed have such reasonable grounds because they are clearly stated in the law of Bangladesh, i.e. the 1951 Citizenship Act.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago

grounds for believing‘ and ‘is able to become‘ are simply not good enough. The reason for the rule against making people stateless is that it avoids the kind of buck-passing where countries throw people out, everybody hopes someone else will catch them, and nobody does. Nobody can force Bangla Desh to give a citizenship, and if they do not, the person remains stateless.

The UK, in withdrawing citizenship, has made Ms Begum stateless. That is wrong. If the Nationality Act says different, the Nationality Act needs changing. Anyway, the law is an ass.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I concur that the Nationality Act should be changed. If the UK made it a lot harder to become a UK citizen in the first place, it would not be necessary to give the Secretary of State such draconian powers. But we are where we are and a vast number of undesirables has been given UK citizenship since 1981, so simply scrapping those powers is asking for even more trouble.
You say that the UK made Shamima stateless. I would say that Shamima made Shamima stateless by spurning Bangladesh’s offer of citizenship.
Incidentalky, “Ms Begum” is not correct as Begum is a title, not a name, in the muslim world. The title is used for respectable unmarried women, which is why I refer to her as Shamima.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago

You have yet to establish that Bangla Desh ever made an offer of citizenship – they are certainly not doing so now. If the UK can pass the buck and withdraw citizenship. Bangla Desh can find a reason to refuse to grant it. Nobody wants Shamima Begum, now that ISIS is no more. It is wrong to make people stateless exactly because that avoids this ping-pong game of ‘you take her.’ – ‘No, you take her’ …

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I do not have to establish this. It is there for all to see in the legislation of Bangladesh. The phrasing of the British Nationality Act simply requires that there are “reasonable grounds for believing” that Shamima could have become a citizen of Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi Constitution and Citizen Act are surely reasonable grounds.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Bangladeshi law says that she is a Bangladeshi citizen.
I’m sure Shamima would much prefer to come here, where she’ll be looked after without even having to work, than to Bangladesh. After all, her parents chose to leave the countryof their birth and ancestors, and come to our terrible racist imperialist nation which, by the way, is expending vast resources to enable her to fight the government.
And I’ve read that Bangladesh would refuse entry; why? Perhaps for the same reasons as we don’t.

William Cameron
William Cameron
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

She doesnt need to claim another citizenship- she already has it.

0 0
0 0
4 months ago

The Bangladeshi Govt is adamant that Ms Begum will not be granted citizenship of their country. She might “qualify” but merely being eligible for something does not always make it automatic. There may well be other provisions of the Bangladeshi constitution that allows discretionary grounds for its Govt to deny a granting of citizenship.
The only way to establish if Ms Begum can be a Bangladeshi citizen is for a case to be brought to the country’s courts to rule on the matter.
The UK cannot impose its own interpretation of other countries constitutions and laws.

In any case Bangladesh is a desperately poor country that’s already hosting a million Rohingya refugees as well as having its own domestic extremist elements. It has had no role in the upbringing or radicalisation of Ms Begum and it’s utterly offensive for the UK to attempt to dump her on them. Is it beyond the capacity even of someone as conceited as yourself, to realise that?

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  0 0

The whole point of a country having a constitution is that, legally, it overrides the expedient utterances of politicians. Of course the Bangladeshi Govt. will say anything to avoid her going there, but that is not relevant What Is relevant is that the wording of the constitution gives the Secretary of State reasonable grounds for believing that Shamima could have become a citizen of Bangladesh.
Your point about Bangladesh begin a poor country is not relevant. They simply have to re-word their constitution if they want to avoid this kind of situation. I don’t particularly want to “dump her” on Bangladesh, I want the Kurds to hand her overe to the Syrian government for prosecution.
What is the “conceit” to which you refer?

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
4 months ago

How is she able to access our legal aid system and isn’t this access the deciding factor for her solicitors to keep testing the law?

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  Pamela Booker

As well as a legal team funded by the UK taxpayer, Shamima also has “activist” lawyers acting for her pro bono.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
4 months ago

It is ‘brave’ to question Lord Sumption as I felt he was standing up for the law and against tyranny? Are you a legal professional may I ask?

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  Carl Valentine

Hello Carl. Lord Sumption was not standing up for the law. Just the opposite. He clearly disagrees with the recent Court f Appeal decision and he also disagrees with the powers given to the Secretary of State by the British Nationality Act. Lord Sumption clearly wants the law to be changed, e.g. to take into account human trafficing.
By contrast, I am (kind of) standing up for the law. I think the Act is fundamentally wrong because i makes it far too easy to obtain citizenship. But if we are going to have the Act as law then the whole Act, including the power to remove citizenship, should be used.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago

The Kurds should hand Shamima over to the Syrian Government for prosecution. She is in Syria illegally (no visa and a stolen passport). For that alone, under Syrian law she would get up to five years in a Syrian prison. Any terrorism convictions would be additional to that. Her alleged crimes were committed in Syria, the victims are Syrian, the forensics are in Syria. The UK has no right to whisk her out of the jurisdiction in which the alleged crimes were committed.
Lord Sumption says that Shamima could be prosecuted for being a member of ISIS. Many ISIs members have now returned to the UK and hardly any of them have been prosecuted. The UK does not have an appropriate law for this. Australia, for example, DOES have a n appropriate law.: anyone in a war zone for no good reason has committed a crime.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago

That’s the nub of it.

0 0
0 0
4 months ago

This comment is an example of where someone becomes so conceited that that they end up bereft of basic common sense!

Notions that opposing antagonistic sides in a civil war co-operate on a trial are ludicrous. It wouldn’t just be a matter of the Syrian Kurds handing over Ms Begum to the Assad Govt, they would have to collaborate over an extended period in compiling evidence for a prosecution case.
That’s of course if a fair trial is even possible under the Assad regime, where arbitrary imprisonment and human rights abuses are rife.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago
Reply to  0 0

That is the second time that you have accused me of being “conceited”. Could I suggest that your refer to a dictionary for the meaning of that word before you use it again.
And anyway, ISIS is all in favour of “arbitrary imprisonment and human rights abuses”.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
4 months ago

Thank you for the discussion.
Denying Shamima Begum her citizenship is a cowardly, shameful, and small-minded move. Countries should take responsibility for their citizens. She should have been brought back to Britain, charged, and had her day in court.
If she is the criminal mastermind she is made out to be, she is far more dangerous in the legal nowhere she is in now than she would be where she can be closely observed – if that would be appropriate.
The stupidity of fearful, craven politicians.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago

What would she be charged with? The UK does not have an appropriate law, and, part from stealing a passport, her other alleged crimes were all committed in Syria and are certainly crimes under Syrian Law, but not necessarily UK law. As I mentioned in my post, only a very small proportion of ISIS returners has been successfully prosecuted in the UK.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
4 months ago

Certain crimes – war crimes and related – can be prosecuted regardless of where they were committed. Also, a state in which a crime was committed can ask the perpetrator’s home state to either extradite or prosecute the individual.
If none of these apply, the odds are she’s innocent.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
4 months ago

If it is that simple, why do you think that hardly any ISIS returnees have been prosecuted in the UK? Out of more than 400 ISIS returnees, only 40 have been successfully prosecuted.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago

This is one rare example of where British politicians are actually standing on principle and displaying an actual modicum of courage. You may disagree with their position, but whatever else they may be guilty of here, it’s not cowardice.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago

This is over-complicating things. The Syrians have a right to try her for crimes committed against Syrian citizens. She entered their country illegally and took part in the murder and abuse of innocent people there. It’s nothing to do with us.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago

Closely observed
. Laugh out loud!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago

I feel divided about this subject because I don’t think 15 is too young to understand (for example) what executing a captive by cutting off the head means.  On the other hand, she may be redeemable. 
But most of all, I really fear the consequences of us all getting comfortable with the idea of the government withdrawing citizenship.  For example, during covid Macron suggested those who refused the so-called vaccine weren’t really proper citizens.  And Jacinda Adern was contentedly asserting that such folk were 2nd class citizens. Meanwhile Ursula von der Leyen seriously floated the idea of making the “vaccine” compulsory.  This kind of authoritarianism is on the rise and allowing the elites to threaten us with withdrawal of citizenship is a terrifying idea.  

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Terrorism is on a different scale to vaccine refusal . There is no comparison – particularly as you are citing an EU country’s president and the EU’s president, so neither of their views apply in this case.
Thank God for Brexit.

Fabio Paolo Barbieri
Fabio Paolo Barbieri
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

In a time of war or pandemic or any other extreme national emergency, the government has the right to make demands it believes to be in the interests of the nation, and no citizen has the right to reject such demands. If the government has the right to draft you and send you to the front, without asking permission, then it certainly has the right to demand, during a pandemic, that you should be vaccinated. As a person who was nearly killed by Covid-19, I find your notion that people should be allowed to choose whether to obey measures meant to check the pandemic and save lives quite repulsive.

David S Sachdev
David S Sachdev
4 months ago

Conscription has historically been dodged for myriad grounds, such as medical, or to faith-based opposition to being drafted. Furthermore, the pandemic resulted in a novel vaccine being invented, then not subjected to regulation testing even though it was a hitherto unseen vaccine technology for a pandemic, the severity of which many people were skeptical of, and that was in contravention of the pandemic contingency plans already war-gamed and set to go ( in Australia at least) but that were later junked in favour of the draconian measures we actually experienced .., and so the notion of compulsory acquiescence to such bad policy cannot be expected to stand

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
4 months ago

Lord Sumption’s point is that it is a moral issue, not a legal issue and in his view the Home Secretary has acted in accordance with legal powers he has, but has done so unwisely. He largely determines this on a what happens now basis – effectively she has been sentenced to life in a Kurdish run detention camp (or death if handed over to the Syrians), whereas she could have been brought back and sentenced to a more reasonable term in a British jail. As he repeatedly admits, he has not seen evidence the Home Secretary relies on to conclude she remains a threat to national security, but the court that made the decision did have access to it.
All very interesting and can be debated ad infinitem from multiple perspectives without ever knowing the full facts. What worries me far more is why second generation immigrants of a particular religious persuasion (Islam) are taking up arms against their country of birth (UK) in support of extreme Islamic causes. She is just one of many examples of this. Stripping all of citizenship and leaving them to rot anywhere else might seem attractive. However surely we need to get to and treat the true source of the rot. To do so may require us to accept a certain level of “Islamophobia” in order to both keep us safe and prevent the situation sliding into a much worse state for British Muslims. The answer is certainly not to stifle any debate on the issue by screaming bigot, fascist or Islamophobe at anyone who dares to point out what is a very real and growing problem in our country.

Allen Z
Allen Z
4 months ago

Radical Islam is at war with the UK and the West. And too many in the West are afraid to admit it, because then they would have to do something about it. Like denying entry to Radical Islamists and their supporters and sympathizers and trying to legally deport those already here. As to Shamima Begum, too bad so sad.

james goater
james goater
4 months ago
Reply to  Allen Z

Spot on! Fully concur with these sentiments.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
4 months ago

About time. If there’s a legal mechanism for putting the British national interest first, the British Government should take it.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
4 months ago

This man is always worth listening to and always argues cogently for the positions he holds. He was very accurate on Covid on the law, and I believe he is right here too. Thank you.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
4 months ago

I wonder whether the view that Shamima would be a security risk is a fear that she would be a direct threat through her own unlawful actions, or that the use others might make of her, is the concern.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Alan Hawkes

Exactly.

She’ll become a poster-child for the idea that there’s no price to be paid for living in this country while diametrically opposing everything about it that makes it worth living in at all.

Some people might say that this idea is already well-received anyway, but we don’t have to make an official confirmation of it.

Scott Norman Rosenthal
Scott Norman Rosenthal
4 months ago

Will she still support Islamist terrorism, given how she was treated?

Jane H
Jane H
4 months ago

Nationality is taken from the father, not where you were born. My daughter was born in Kuwait but is British, like her father.

Chris PKW
Chris PKW
4 months ago

Jonathan Sumption is always worth listening to.