Statelessness and Britain’s secret courts

A British-born family is the first to lose citizenship in a secret court trial held in their absence.

England love it or leave it protestor
British citizens can be stripped of their passport in their absence on the strength of secret evidence [GALLO/GETTY]

On Tuesday December 16, the British parliament held a debate over Home Secretary Theresa May’s new Counterterrorism and Security Bill.

Prime Minister David Cameron supports the proposals put forward which include new powers to be granted to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and police. Elements of the legislation are proving controversial, facing legal and political opposition partly on the basis that they may lead to an increasing number of Britons being made stateless.

Four years ago, a British-born man of Asian heritage and his family were tried in absence in one of the UK’s secret courts. Terrorism-linked charges filed against the male relatives, all born in Britain, led to the decision to revoke their passports.

An action which the family says has “destroyed” them.

According to legal lobby groups and rights activists, the manner in which Britons may be stripped of citizenship raise serious questions about the legislation’s political motives.

Kat Craig, legal director of the human rights organisation Reprieve, told Al Jazeera: “The regressive nature of these measures is clear from the company their supporters keep. The UK has been praised by the far right French Front National for these provisions, while the US Supreme Court has called similar measures “a form of punishment more primitive than torture.”

Secret Courts

The British government has issued an order preventing the father and his children from being named. Therefore, the man is referred to here as “S1”.

Court documents, seen by the family only after the decision, show the 51-year-old father and three sons, all in their 20s, were indicted of being “committed Islamist extremist(s)” with “ties to al-Qaeda and the proscribed organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)”.

All are charges the family vehemently denies and to which they have not had the opportunity to respond in a court of law. Evidence said to exist against them has not been made known to either the family or their legal representatives.

S1 and his three sons’ citizenships were revoked during a prolonged stay in Pakistan where they travelled in 2009, to take part in the weddings of a son and only daughter.


UK has deprived people of their citizenship shortly before they were kidnapped, tortured and rendered - and in some cases killed in US drone strikes.

by - Kat Craig, Legal Director, Reprieve

They intended to return to their UK home.

They first realised they could not return to the UK, when four letters sent to their address in Stockport, Greater Manchester, were redirected to their holiday residence in Pakistan.

Then followed “deprivation of citizenship” letters dated March 2011, signed by the home secretary.

In these, Theresa May explained that the father and three of his sons had had their citizenship revoked “because I am satisfied that it would be conducive to the public good” and that they would not be left “stateless” because they were eligible for Pakistani citizenship.

They are the first British-born family to be communally stripped of their citizenship, and among 27 whose UK nationality has been revoked since May became home secretary in 2010.

Only five of those, including the family of four, are British-born, while the other 22 were born outside of Britain.

Craig is concerned by what is taking place. “In the past, the UK has deprived people of their citizenship shortly before they were kidnapped, tortured and rendered – and in some cases killed in US drone strikes,” he said.

Amandla Thomas-Johnson, media officer for CAGE, told Al Jazeera: “Citizenship stripping has been gathering pace at an alarming rate under the coalition. As with previous cases, the decision to revoke the citizenship of ‘S1’ and his three sons is almost impossible to challenge and leaves them in a legal black hole similar to a medieval exile.

“This power has almost exclusively been used against Muslims and such decisions will confirm to many that British Muslims are second class citizens in the eyes of the government.”

‘British in culture and values’

S1 wants to return home. He told Al Jazeera that both he and his children consider themselves European.

“We are through and through British in culture and values. English was and still is the only language we speak at home. We are more British than Pakistani,” he says.

The SIAC judgement in December 2012 acknowledged something of the difficulty endured by the family.

“The deprivation decision and order in the case of S1 has undoubtedly had an impact on the private and family life of his wife and youngest son, both of whom remain British citizens,” stated Justice Mitting in his verdict.

However, he said due to the “threat to national security” posed by S1, “the unavoidable impact upon the rights of his wife and youngest son would be justifiable”.

Rachel Robinson, policy officer for human rights group Liberty, told Al Jazeera: “Having stripped someone of their citizenship, the home secretary can relegate any appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. This secretive body has the power to exclude an appellant from their own hearing and allow evidence to be heard in private. How can someone defend themselves when they can’t see the evidence against them?”

While the wife and his 18-year-old disabled son of S1 still have British citizenship, they do not want to divide the family by returning to the UK.

Pakistani citizenship

After being rejected on several occasions, the family were granted Pakistani citizenship.

S1 tells Al Jazeera: “My youngest son desperately wants to come back. He is 18 with a mind of a six-year-old. In Pakistan people with disabilities are shunned. He misses his school in Stockport and has medical needs which are not being met here.”

The father denies any accusations that he and his sons were connected to al-Qaeda and LeT.

He says even the accusations itself makes no sense.

“The two groups are ideologically opposed – you can’t be a member or affiliated to both. When I read the allegations in the deprivation order, my heart sank and I thought to myself ‘what a joke’.”

Reprieve‘s Craig is pessimistic of any immediate change in the current political climate: “This government has shown that it is willing to trample over its citizens’ most basic rights in this latest iteration of poorly conceived attempts to combat terrorism. The fact that a single politician, without the consent of the court, now has the power to secretly make a British national stateless is nothing short of chilling.”

S1 says: “Laws such as those that have facilitated the deprivation of our citizenship is something expected from despotic tyrannical regimes, not a country which claims to be built upon justice and due process. At the very least, I am entitled to a hearing in front of a judge where evidence is presented and where I am given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.”

Source: Al Jazeera