Shamima Begum: A Fight Between Human Rights and National Security

On 16th July 2020, a U.K. court agreed that Shamima Begum was entitled to a fair trial and should be allowed to return to the U.K. in order to fight the revocation of her citizenship. For those readers who aren’t aware of the legal dispute, Begum travelled to Syria to join ISIS and married an Islamic State fighter. After she pleaded for her return to the U.K., in February 2019 the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced that for national security reasons she would be stripped of her U.K. citizenship. Consequently, Begum has fought against this decision and has recently argued that she should return to the U.K. in order to be given a fair trial.

Don’t be mistaken, national security concerns are serious and its necessity should not by any means be underestimated. It is absolutely crucial that any allegations related to her alleged involvement in terrorism should be taken seriously and managed if she was to return to the U.K for her appeal. It is also completely understandable that some have worries that her entry back into the U.K. may provide a gateway to a further terrorist attack. But (and this is a very important but), whatever thoughts you may have about her culpability, refusing to provide her with the right to a fair trial defeats the purpose of the judicial system as she cannot possibly effectively advise her counsel in her existing living conditions… you may as well automatically strip her of her rights and proceed without a trial!

Had she not had a threat to her life if she was to return to Bangladesh, had access to the luxuries of a suitable living condition and means of contacting her lawyers, then it could be hard to sympathise with her return – especially considering the gravity of her actions and if the protection of U.K. residents could not be guaranteed. However, this is unfortunately not the case and so one cannot simply ignore the injustices that would follow if her appeal was denied. If national security concerns can be managed and the safety of U.K. citizens can be secured, then to deny her the right to a fair trial would be unconstitutional – especially considering the severity of the consequences associated with stripping someone of their citizenship.

How can we uphold the rule of law and ensure that everyone has access to a fair trial by denying her this right? How can we ignore judicial precedent, international law and natural justice? Doing so sets a dangerous precedent which could give rise to dispensing with the law and legal formalities in future cases and this is the crux of the argument in favour of her return. To do so could have such disastrous consequences in the future that it is simply too treacherous to entertain. Although, it is important to note that whilst Begum may have succeeded in this instance, it is likely that the Secretary of State will appeal further to the Supreme Court to overturn this decision… so, watch this space.

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