Since 2002 the British Government has progressed with passing legislation that grants the state additional powers for depriving citizenship so that since 2006 the Home Secretary can deprive a person of their citizenship if they deem it ‘conducive to the public good’ to do so, and since 2014 can make a person stateless if the Home Secretary believes they can obtain citizenship elsewhere. Between 2002 and 2016 over 70 people were deprived of their citizenship, almost none have managed to appeal this decision successfully and many are stranded abroad, some stateless. Citizenship stripping powers were passed and extended in 2002, 2006 and 2014 respectively.
- On the 1st April 2002 section 40 of the British Nationality Act was amended to allow for the deprivation of British citizens in cases where the Secretary of State was satisfied that they had done anything considered prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK. The act came to be informally known as the ‘Hamza amendment’ when it was in his name that the legislation was justified and he became its first target. Three days after the law changed Abu Hamza’s citizenship was cancelled, though he later successfully appealed against the deprivation order on the grounds that he would be made stateless.
- In 2005 Tony Blair called for the need to make citizenship deprivation procedures ‘simpler and more effective’. The government introduced a new amendment in 2006 that allowed citizenship stripping of any individual whose citizenship was deemed by the Home Secretary not to be ‘conducive to public good’ replacing the previous requirement of ‘seriously prejudicial’ and thus lowering the threshold for citizenship deprivation powers with an ‘easily-satisfied condition’ that incorporated anything from involvement in terrorism to ‘unacceptable behaviour’. In practice this meant that the possibility for removing citizenship broadened to include anyone deemed an ‘extremist’. The effect of the 2006 amendment was to establish the same threshold for citizenship deprivation as was already in place for permitting deportation.
- In 2013, following the successful appeal of Hilal al-Jedda against the deprivation of his citizenship on grounds that he would be made stateless, the then Home Secretary Theresa May drew on his case in parliamentary debates on the 2014 immigration bill to justify an amendment which allows naturalised citizens to be made stateless if the Secretary of State is ‘satisfied’ that a second citizenship can be obtained elsewhere. Later passed as part of the Immigration Act 2014, a small number of individuals have subsequently been deprived of their citizenship under these powers, and effectively made stateless. Minh Pham, who had been living in the UK since he was six years old after fleeing Vietnam with his family when he was one month old, was extradited to the US in 2015 and also deprived of his British citizenship. Even though the Vietnamese government did not recognise him as a Vietnamese national the deprivation order was approved by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).
‘A Kafkaesque nightmare’: The Growing Use of Executive Power
The deprivation order issued by the Home Secretary looks something like this:
In cases where individuals are suspected of engaging in terrorism-related offences, citizenship deprivation usually operates on the basis of suspicion, rather than conviction, often drawing on intelligence gathered by security services, MI5. In most cases the individuals served deprivation orders have not been charged or prosecuted in a criminal court, and since the order is granted by the Home Secretary it is a disciplinary technique that is not scrutinised by any independent judicial authority. Though there is a small window of opportunity to appeal against the order – the appeal must be made within 28 days of receiving the order- most individuals have been located outside of the UK when the deprivation order is granted, making it near impossible to appeal within the set parameters.
The order itself comes in the form of a letter that is usually sent to the person’s last known address in the UK, which may be their family home. In a number of cases individuals targeted have learned of their citizenship deprivation through family members, who have signed for letters from the Home Secretary in their absence. In some cases when individuals have tried to launch late appeals arguing that they were not informed of the deprivation order since they were abroad when it was issued (see cases of E2, NM) their appeals have been dismissed.
When appeals are made they are presented to SIAC, a court that overseas immigration cases where there are national security/ terrorism related concerns. SIAC decisions are made by three selected judges and no jury. The court hears evidence in a mixture of open and closed sessions, and decisions can largely be set out in closed judgements. In the closed sessions, appellants and their lawyers are not allowed to see the evidence against them but instead they are assigned a (security-cleared) special advocate to represent them, and with whom they are not permitted to communicate once the advocate has been privy to the evidence against them.
On the use of these special advocates appointed to serve at SIAC, one lawyer we spoke with said: ‘I have yet to come across a barrister that acts routinely for the Secretary of State in these kinds of proceedings that I would trust. And that is a terrifying thing to say about members of my own profession’. Another leading human rights lawyer have described the SIAC trials a ’Kafkaesque nightmare’ for her clients.
TIMELINE: CITIZENSHIP DEPRIVATION AMENDMENTS
May 14, 2014 Amendment allowing statelessness for naturalised citizens if the Secretary of State believes individual is able to obtain a second citizenship Law introduced after Hilal al-Jedda case.
June 16, 2006 Amendment introduced reducing standard required to remove citizenship to same standard required for deportation (conducive to public good)
April 1, 2002 Following 9/11 and public outcry over Abu Hamza, section 40 of the British Nationality Act was amended to allow for deprivation of British citizens when Secretary of State was satisfied that he had done anything prejudicial to the vital interests of this country
May 14, 2014
Amendment allowing statelessness for naturalised citizens if the Secretary of State believes individual is able to obtain a second citizenship Law introduced after Hilal al-Jedda case.Read more
June 16, 2006
Amendment introduced reducing standard required to remove citizenship to same standard required for deportation (conducive to public good)Read more
April 1, 2002
Following 9/11 and public outcry over Abu Hamza, section 40 of the British Nationality Act was amended to allow for deprivation of British citizens when Secretary of State was satisfied that he had done anything prejudicial to the vital interests of this countryRead more