A woman accused of travelling to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State group was unlawfully stripped of her British citizenship because the Home Office did not give her notice, a High Court judge has ruled.
The woman is being held in the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, where Shamima Begum is also detained.
A previous hearing before a specialist tribunal was told conditions in the camp, which is is run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, are “dire” and “at least two British nationals have died” there.
Identified only as D4, she had her British citizenship removed in December 2019 after she was assessed to have aligned with the terrorist group.
Papers from that case reveal that the grandmother is being detained with her two adult daughters in Roj camp.
They also say one of her daughters, identified as C8, was stripped of her citizenship in April 2017 and has two daughters, aged 3 and 4, born under the caliphate.
The Home Office has the power to remove someone’s citizenship if it would be “conducive to the public good”, a power that has been used in recent years with 104 people stripped of their British citizenship in 2017 alone.
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But the department “must give the person written notice” of the decision, providing reasons for it and notifying them of their right to appeal.
In 2018, the Home Office amended the regulations setting out how notice is to be given where someone’s whereabouts are unknown, there is no address to send documents to and they do not have a lawyer.
Under the new rules, notice of a decision to revoke someone’s citizenship is “deemed to have been given” to the person in question if it is placed on the Home Office’s file.
In D4’s case, her British citizenship was removed in December 2019, but she was only told about the decision in October 2020 after her lawyers had asked the Foreign Office to help them bring her back to the UK.
At a hearing last week, her lawyers said the regulations allowing the Home Office to simply treat notice as having been given “by placing it on a private file in the Home Office” was unlawful.
They argued the removal of D4’s citizenship should therefore be overturned.
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In a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Chamberlain found the decision “which purported to deprive D4 of her British citizenship” was, because she was not given notice, “void and of no effect”.
“D4 was from that date, and remains, a British citizen,” the judge added.
Mr Justice Chamberlain said: “Parliament said that, before making an order in respect of a person, the Home Secretary must give the person written notice of the decision to do so.
“It could have imposed a requirement to give notice ‘where possible’ or ‘if practicable’, but it did not.”
He added: “As a matter of ordinary language, you do not ‘give’ someone ‘notice’ of something by putting the notice in your desk drawer and locking it.
“No-one who understands English would regard that purely private act as a way of ‘giving notice’. That is so even if there is no reasonable step that could be taken to bring the notice to the attention of the person concerned.”
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Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that “Parliament did not give the Home Secretary power to make regulations that treat notice as having been given to the person affected when it has not been given to that person but instead has simply been placed on a Home Office file”.
The judge also said: “Citizenship is a fundamental status.
“To deprive a person of her citizenship is a very substantial interference with her rights … it is perfectly coherent for a statutory scheme to provide that an order having that effect can only be made only after causing notice of the decision to be received by her or, at least, after taking reasonable steps to bring the decision to her attention.”
Mr Justice Chamberlain made a declaration that the removal of D4’s citizenship was void, but suspended the effect of the declarations to allow the Home Office time to consider whether to appeal against his ruling.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said: “That the Government would ‘serve notice’ that it had stripped a British woman of her citizenship by filing the decision in a desk drawer, without telling her, is typical of the callous and cynical approach it is taking to the families detained in north-east Syrian camps.
“The majority of these women are trafficking victims, but rather than support or repatriate them, the Home Secretary is seeking to cut them off and deny them protection.”