Shamima Begum case explained: The law surrounding ISIS bride’s citizenship

Shamima Begum's initial attempt to appeal the Supreme Court's decision to strip her of her British citizenship was unsuccessful.

The 24-year-old had asked the Court of Appeal for permission to take her case to the highest court in the United Kingdom.

Her attempt to reclaim British citizenship was unanimously denied by three justices at the Court of Appeal earlier this year. She now has the choice to ask the Supreme Court directly for permission to have her case heard.

She is stuck in a Syrian refugee camp with no hope of getting back to the UK due to the Court of Appeal's decision.

The Chief Justice states in her opinion that although the outcome in Begum's case is "harsh", it is possible to claim that Begum is “the author of her own misfortune”.

Begum lost her latest challenge at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in February 2023, as a court rejected her claims that she was unlawfully stripped of her British citizenship, but she took her case to the Court of Appeal in October 2023.

Her attorneys have maintained that the Home Office's decision to revoke her citizenship was illegal, partly due to British officials' improper consideration of the possibility that she was being trafficked.

At the time, the judge said that although there was a “credible suspicion” that she was a trafficking victim, this was not a factor that needed to be considered when removing her citizenship, which was done on national security grounds.

Begum fled Bethnal Green to Syria when she was aged 15.

Shamima Begum had three children in Syria, all of whom have died (ITV)
Shamima Begum had three children in Syria, all of whom have died (ITV)

Here are some key questions about the case.

What did Sajid Javid do?

Mr Javid has used his powers under the British Nationality Act 1981 to strip Begum of her British citizenship. This can be done in instances where doing so would be “conducive to the public good”.

However, this power can only be used where the person concerned has dual nationality, as leaving an individual stateless is a breach of international law.

Sajid Javid, who was home secretary at the time, removed Shamima Begum’s citizenship (Stefan Rousseau  / PA Wire)
Sajid Javid, who was home secretary at the time, removed Shamima Begum’s citizenship (Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire)

What is the law on revoking citizenship?

The power to revoke citizenship was extended by the Immigration Act in 2014 and can only be used in cases where a person has “conducted” themselves “in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK” and where 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 country or territory”.

What was said about these powers when they were introduced?

Writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2014, then Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Following the recent Immigration Act, I can, in certain circumstances, remove citizenship from naturalised Britons who are fighting overseas and exclude them, too.

“And while it is illegal for any country to make its citizens stateless, any British national who returns from Syria and Iraq faces prosecution here for participating in terrorist activities abroad.”

Shamima Begum wants to return to the UK (PA)
Shamima Begum wants to return to the UK (PA)

Does Ms Begum have dual citizenship?

Bangladesh's minister of state for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam said she does not. He states: “Bangladesh asserts that Ms Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen. She is a British citizen by birth and has never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh.

“It may also be mentioned that she never visited Bangladesh in the past, despite her parental lineage.

“So, there is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.”

Additional reporting by Press Association.