The Supreme Court has decided that the ex-ISIS wife, Shamima Begum, will not be allowed to return to the UK to fight for her citizenship, their reasoning being that the safety of others must be a priority over Begum’s own personal right to a fair trial.
The court of appeals last year ruled that Begum was being denied her right to a fair trial by not being allowed back into the UK, after her citizenship was deprived due to her joining the Islamic State. While the new Supreme Court ruling does not overturn this judgement, it reprioritises public safety over the right to a fair trial for Begum. The human rights group Liberty has condemned this new ruling, with a representative bringing up the importance of a just democracy, where the right to a fair trial cannot simply be stripped away on a ‘governmental whim’. The concept of right to a fair trial is not only constitutes Article 6 of the Human Rights Act, but also embodies the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The government’s refusal to allow Miss Begum to return sends a concerning message to the British public to imply otherwise. This is an interesting approach, and one wonders if the government also protest the use of prisons, infringing on the rights of freedom.
In 2019, Miss Begum took part in an interview with the BBC’s Quentin Somerville and appealed to the court of public opinion, apologising for the deaths caused, only after being prompted twice. When talking about the British victims of terror attacks, she commented “it wasn’t fair on them, they weren’t fighting anyone, they weren’t causing any harm, but neither was I”.
Miss Begum’s reprehensible actions relating to her involvement in the Islamic State were lessened slightly due to her being the age of fifteen at the time she was recruited. However, allowing this to be a defining factor in her treatment by the law would be a problem, as it would clearly incentivise the Islamic state into recruiting younger UK citizens into their ranks. The idea that right to a fair trial is an intrinsic right as opposed to an appointed one is problematic and can be debated. But, this decision seems to suggest that this can be taken away by the English law courts. The government argues that this is partly due to Miss Begum’s eligibility for a Bangladeshi passport, so she would not become ‘stateless’ in the eyes of international law. But, Miss Begum was born in Britain, and in no point in her life has held Bangladeshi citizenship. The case is complicated and fragile due to these factors of her age and her right to a fair trial, however in the case of Miss Begum it is not difficult to understand the courts motivation behind doing so, especially against the backdrop of a global pandemic.
The safety of the public cannot be downplayed. Public safety is one of the key responsibilities of a working democracy, but how much is this worth if the scales of justice are tipped irreversibly as a result?