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Weekly Human Rights News: 24-02-23

This week’s news includes an explanation of the human rights issues in Shamima Begum’s citizenship case and our write-up of the recent Justice Questions about the European Convention on Human Rights.

NHS staff told us that it is “essential” they understand how to use human rights in practice

Human Rights Officer, Katie, led a workshop with NHS staff on human rights in practice and how human rights can be used to interpret other laws. Participants described the knowledge as “essential” and said the programme is great for developing their understanding.

We blogged about the recent Justice Questions concerning the European Convention on Human Rights

As part of the regular Justice Questions session, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and his team of Ministers were questioned by Members of Parliament in the House of Commons on Tuesday 21 January. Issues such as leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement (the GFA, the Northern Ireland peace agreement), and victims’ rights were raised. Alison Thewliss MP raised the importance of human rights in protecting marginalised communities while Hannah Bardell MP discussed consent from devolved nations.

News from Elsewhere

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission found that the Home Secretary acted lawfully by removing Shamima Begum’s citizenship

In February 2019, the Home Secretary (then Sajid Javid MP) made an order depriving Shamima Begum of her citizenship under Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 because he felt it was for “the public good”. This means Shamima is no longer a British citizen and does not have permission to be in the UK. She cannot re-enter the UK using a British passport. 

Shamima appealed this decision. Before the main hearing, there was a “preliminary hearing” (or “preparation hearing”) where the courts decided on some key issues that would impact the way the case progressed.  In 2020, that case progressed to the Supreme Court, which said that the Home Secretary did not have to let Shamima enter the country to ensure she had a fair hearing for her appeal. They also said that the Home Secretary had undertaken detailed assessments so was satisfied that depriving Shamima of her citizenship would not put her Article 3 right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment at risk.   

At the hearing on 22 February 2023, Shamima appealed the decision to take away her citizenship for  nine different reasons. The Court said the “strongest and the most important” reasons were that 1) the Home Secretary did not take into account that Shamima may have been a victim of human trafficking and 2) taking away her citizenship therefore breached her Article 4 right to be free from slavery or forced labour. Article 4 puts a duty on the Government to protect people from being trafficked and to investigate cases of trafficking. 

The Court agreed there was reason to believe Shamima may have been trafficked to Syria i.e. that she was “recruited, transferred and then harboured for the purposes of sexual exploitation.” However, it said the duty to investigate trafficking under Article 4 does not include a duty to return victims to the UK. It also said that while the UK may have failed to protect Shamima’s Article 4 rights before she first travelled to Syria, it was not doing so by taking away her citizenship, which was the issue in question. Taking away her citizenship didn’t directly “cause” Shamima to be trafficked, so it was not a breach of Article 4. 

The Court also looked at the duty to protect people from being trafficked and not to punish people who have been trafficked and forced to do illegal things. It said there was no previous case law to refer to, but it couldn’t be confident that taking away someone’s citizenship would be classed as a “punishment” in this sense as its main purpose is to protect the public, not to punish an individual. 

Importantly, the Court said that it is up to the Home Secretary to decide what is in the public interest and what weight to give to different factors when deciding to remove citizenship. Shamima’s lawyers have suggested the ruling means “there is now no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK if the Home Secretary invokes national security.”

The Court also considered an argument that depriving Shamima of her citizenship was an unlawful interference with her and her family’s Article 8 right to private and family life. The Court said Article 8 only has limited application in decisions about people’s citizenship (because there is no human right to citizenship) and it will only be a breach if the decision is arbitrary, rather than disproportionate. “Arbitrary” refers to actions that are “vague and non-specific” rather than being genuine and for a good reason. The Court said the decision to remove Shamima’s citizenship could not be said to be arbitrary, so Article 8 was not breached. 

Shamima’s lawyers said, “every possible avenue to challenge this decision will be urgently pursued.” 

Read the full judgment here. 


Closing statements in the Spycops case

This week, closing statements were heard for the first part of the Undercover Policing Inquiry. The Inquiry was set up in 2015 following a number of allegations about undercover officers using the identities of deceased children, tricking women into relationships with them and spying on political activists. The first part of the inquiry looked at the deployment and behaviour of undercover officers and the impact on them and others.

Find out how Kate Wilson, who was tricked into a relationship with an undercover officer, used the Human Rights Act to get justice in our video blog on the Spycops case.

There are two more parts of the inquiry to go: investigation into senior management; and the role of other Government bodies.

Read the closing statements here.

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