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Citizenship stripping proposal defeated by Lords

Citizenship stripping proposal defeated by Lords

Categories: Latest News

Thursday April 10 2014

BBC News reports on the government’s defeat over citizenship-stripping powers contained in the Immigration Bill as the Lords voted 242 to 180 against the proposed changes on Monday.

Changes to the Immigration Bill, which ministers hope to pass into law before the end of the parliamentary session next month, has already passed through the Commons with a majority vote.

However, on Monday, peers raised profound concerns over the lack of time for proper scrutiny of the Bill. Lord Taylor of Holbeach, defending the Government’s handling of the Bill’s passage said that the Bill’s provisions related to “individuals who have committed acts that go to the heart of our national security,” as though this were sufficient justification for expediting its presentation to both Houses.

It would also seem that the Government has not given adequate consideration to the many others, estimated at three or four million people as the Guardian reported last month, who would be caught up in Bill’s provisions were they to be enacted.

Currently, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, can revoke citizenship if she is “satisfied that deprivation would be conducive to the public good.” Her powers are restricted by Section 40, clause 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981 which precludes revoking citizenship if so doing renders a subject “stateless”. The provisions in the Immigration Bill, which remove these restrictions, have been prompted by legal challenges to the Home Secretary’s extensive use of the powers since coming to power in 2010.

Crossbencher Lord Pannick QC, who led the opposition to the clause to expand her powers, stated that “There are regrettably all too many dictators around the world willing to use the creation of statelessness as a weapon against opponents and we should do nothing to suggest that such conduct is acceptable.”

His concerns were supported by Labour peer and fellow QC, Baroness Helena Kennedy, who proclaimed that leaving some stateless is “repugnant” and it was a “weapon used by tyrants and dictators.”

Lord Ken MacDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, stated that “the unilateral imposition of statelessness is very likely to be directly unhelpful to those efforts because it carries with it the very real risk of breaching the United Kingdom’s international obligations to a country which has admitted a person on the strength of their lawful possession of a United Kingdom passport. As the [Joint Committee on Human Rights] has observed, the United Kingdom would appear to have no absolute right under international law to require other states to accept its outcasts. In my view… it threatens illegal and procedural quagmire hardly compatible with the comity of nations, still less with solidarity between free countries in the face of terrorism.”

According to Liberty, Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Labour lead on the Bill shattered the security defence used by the Government in support the Bill by posing the question “what are the implications for national and international security in allowing terror suspects to be left loose and undocumented in whatever country they happen to be in when their citizenship is revoked?”

Current cases of citizens being stripped of their nationality were discussed by peers including the case of Hilal Al-Jedda and other Muslim dual nationals, Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen and Mohamed Sakr, a British-Egyptian citizen, who were killed in US drone strikes following the revocation of their citizenship.

Al-Jedda’s citizenship was revoked for the second time following Theresa May’s decision to go against a Supreme Court ruling last October. In events which closely parallel another piece of legislation recently enacted which tips the balance between liberty and security in favour of the latter, the Justice and Security Act, Lord Brown raised the suggestion that the Immigration Bill clause was added in reaction to the Government’s defeat in Al-Jedda’s case and the Supreme Court ruling.

Amendments proposed by the Lords which will now be presented to the Commons require:

The government to establish a committee of members of both Houses of Parliament to consider whether section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (deprivation of citizenship) should be amended to enable the Secretary of State to deprive a person of their citizenship even if to do so would result in a person being made stateless.

The Secretary of State to arrange for a review of the operation of the power to deprive citizens of citizenship which must be presented to the Houses of Parliament. However, it allows for the Secretary of State to “exclude a part of the report from the copy laid before Parliament if the Secretary of State is of the opinion that it would be contrary to the public interest or prejudicial to national security”.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in research findings into citizenship revocation was referenced in the peers’ debate. The Bureau identified 17 cases of British nationals whose citizenship was revoked, 15 of whom were abroad at the time the power was exercised. The Home Office deliberately waited in at least one case for a suspect to travel overseas before stripping him of his citizenship.


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