UK unlawfully stripped woman of citizenship without telling her – court

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

The court of appeal has ruled that the UK government acted unlawfully when it stripped a British woman of her citizenship without telling her.

By a two to one majority, the justices upheld a high court ruling that the failure to notify the woman, known as D4, that her citizenship had been removed until the government was contacted by her lawyers nullified the decision.

The home secretary had argued that notification had been given to D4, who has been detained in the Roj camp in Syria since January 2019, by simply placing a note on her Home Office file, relying on regulations introduced without parliamentary approval.

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However, the court of appeal said the British Nationality Act 1981 required written notice to be given to someone of a decision to strip them of their citizenship and only parliament could decide to alter that requirement.

Lady Justice Whipple said: “The 1981 act does not confer powers of such breadth that the home secretary can deem notice to have been given where no step at all has been taken to communicate the notice to the person concerned and the order has simply been put on the person’s Home Office file. To permit that would be to permit the statute to be subverted by secondary legislation.”

The court of appeal ruling, published on Wednesday, came as the government attempts, through clause 9 of the nationality and borders bill, to remove the requirement to give notice in a wide range of circumstances, including retrospectively. The clause has prompted heavy criticism and protests outside parliament.

Whipple said the purpose for requirement to give notice in the 1981 act was that “the person needs to know that a decision has been made; the person is entitled to know the reasons for that decision; and the person is put on notice of their appeal rights”.

Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, said: “Today’s decision confirms that stripping a British national of their citizenship in secret is illegal. But the government is already cynically attempting to circumvent the courts by using clause 9 of the nationality and borders bill to render this ruling moot, making a mockery of the rule of law. Ministers should change course and recognise that depriving people of their citizenship without even telling them is an affront to British principles of justice and fairness.”

D4 was born in the UK in 1967 and had British nationality from birth. She also has Pakistani nationality. The decision to strip her of British citizenship was made on 27 December 2019. However, her solicitors were only informed of the decision when they wrote to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in September 2020 asking for help in repatriating her.

In a dissenting opinion, Sir Geoffrey Vos, master of the rolls, said: “There is, in my view, no substantive difference between a regulation that allows valid service of a notice by sending it to an address at which it is known the person will not receive it and serving it to file.”

The Home Office said it intended to seek permission to appeal from the supreme court.

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