The Home Office has lost the latest stage is its legal battle over stripping people of their British Citizenship without notice. The Court of Appeal ruled this week that the government acted unlawfully when it stripped a woman identified as D4 of her citizenship in December 2019 without informing her of the decision. She discovered her citizenship had been revoked 10 months later when her solicitor asked the government to repatriate her, and were refused.
D4 has been detained in the al-Roj camp in Syria since January 2019. Her citizenship was revoked under the 1981 British Nationality Act, in line with a clause that allows the government to remove citizenship where this is for the ‘public good’. Alleged Isis members are believed to make up a significant proportion of at least 150 people who have had their British citizenship removed under this clause since 2014.
In the ruling, delivered on Wednesday, Lady Justice Whipple said: ‘There may be good policy reasons for empowering the home secretary to deprive a person of citizenship without giving notice, but such a step is not lawful under this legislation. If the government wishes to empower the secretary in that way, it must persuade parliament to amend the primary legislation. That is what it is currently seeking to do under the Nationality and Borders Bill … it is for parliament to decide.’
Lord Justice Baker noted that the grounds for removing someone’s citizenship had been extended several times in recent years, ‘but the requirement to give notice has always been an integral part’.
This ruling comes at a critical time, as the government hopes to pass the Nationality and Borders Bill, expanding the power of the Home Secretary to strip people of their citizenship. Clause 9 of this Bill would exempt the government from having to give notice of removal of someone’s citizenship if it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ to do so, or in the interests of national security, diplomatic relations or otherwise in the public interest. This will also apply retrospectively.
Birnberg Peirce, representing D4, noted that: ‘Whilst the bare facts outlined in today’s judgement show that there were not even the makings of a pretence of notification of D4, the [Nationality and Borders] Bill, if successful, undoubtedly in anticipation of the reaffirmation of the High Court decision, will mandate that despite the unlawfulness of service to file similar decisions will be retrospectively validated. The breadth of clause 9 of the Bill is in a range of ways extraordinary, expanding the Home Secretary’s already significant powers at the same time as other countries are seeking to limit the circumstances in which individuals may be stripped of nationality.’
The Home Office has said it intended to seek permission to appeal the Court of Appeal judgment at the Supreme Court, stating it it would ‘not apologise for removing the citizenship of terrorists, those involved in serious and organised crime and those who seek to do us harm’.