Shamima Begum would be beaten or placed in isolation in the Syrian detention camp where she is being held if she speaks by mobile phone to British lawyers challenging her deprivation of UK citizenship, the supreme court has been told.
The woman who left east London as a 15-year-old schoolgirl in 2015 to join Islamic State forces, is unable to communicate effectively with her legal team and will not be able to participate in any meaningful way in proceedings while she is in captivity, the court heard.
Addressing the supreme court, Lord Pannick QC, representing Begum, said that the Kurdish authorities in al-Roj camp “do not permit detainees to use their phones”. Those caught, he added, are “placed in isolation, separated from their children and beaten”.
Pannick said that her solicitor, Daniel Furner, of the law firm , had managed to make some contact to take basic instructions but that the lines of communication were inadequate for her to be involved in the detailed, factual issues that will be raised in any substantive hearing challenging her loss of UK citizenship.
Pannick said that Furner was “going to need to communicate with her to discuss any points that arise in argument at the hearing … He requires more detailed instructions. He has been unable to communicate on detailed factual responses.”
Although journalists have been allowed into the camp, Pannick said, lawyers have been denied access.
A summary of a Home Office assessment from 2019 released to the court acknowledged that “should Begum become aware of the deprivation [of citizenship] decision whilst in al-Hawl [another camp where she was previously held] it is difficult to see how she might effectively exercise her appeal right from that location.
“…Begum seemingly has no immediate prospect of leaving al-Hawl, travelling to the UK or another location so as to more effectively pursue the appeal..”
Pannick told the five supreme court justices that Begum, now 21, needed to be able to participate in the hearing if it was to be conducted fairly. “A function of procedural fairness is to uphold the rule of law,” he said. “It’s to ensure that the [home secretary] is applying proper standards that they can stand up to scrutiny.
“The requirements of procedural fairness cannot be overridden by national security without express statutory provision.”
The court was read extracts of an official report dating back to April 2019 which said that of 900 people who travelled to Syria to take part in the conflict around 20% had been killed and 40% had returned home. It continued: “They have all been investigated and the majority have been assessed to pose no, or a low, security risk.”
Pannick said: “What degree of threat, if any, Ms Begum will pose on her return [needs to be investigated] in the circumstances of her case. Sir James [Eadie QC for the Home Office] is asking the court to assume the worst when the purpose of the appeal is to determine the facts.”
Pannick added: “The court should not assume that Ms Begum will be in the category of those who pose the most serious threat on her return or that TPIMs [terrorism prevention and investigation measures] and prosecution would be inadequate to protect this country from her when she returns.”
Tom Hickman QC, also representing Begum, said that she was at risk of being transferred to Iraq where she would face mistreatment or possibly a death penalty.
The hearing continues.