Home Secretary v. Al-Jedda

Court:
Domestic Courts
Country:
United Kingdom
Status:
Closed

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Resisting attempts to undermine protection for the stateless

In 2013, the UK coalition government sought to strip British citizenship from 20 individuals, bringing to 36 the number of such actions since the elections in May 2010, a marked increase from the previous Labour government. International law prevents governments from depriving someone of their citizenship if they would be left stateless, save in specific exceptional circumstances. The UK government stripped Al-Jedda of his citizenship and argued that because he had the right to re-apply for Iraqi citizenship, he was not stateless. The UK Supreme Court disagreed, affirming the guidance of the UNHCR that when deciding whether someone is stateless, only the situation at that moment in time is relevant.

Facts

Al-Jedda was born in Iraq in 1957 and acquired citizenship of Iraq by birth. In 1992, he came to the UK as a refugee and was then granted limited leave to remain. In 1998, he was granted indefinite leave to remain. On June 12, 2000, he was naturalized as a British citizen. Under Iraqi law at the time, this meant he lost his Iraqi citizenship.

In 2004, during the US/UK occupation of Iraq, Al-Jedda went to Iraq. He was interned in Iraq by British forces on the grounds that he took part in armed attacks on Coalition forces. Represented by public interest lawyers, he challenged this detention before the British courts. His claims failed, but he was released from detention on December 30, 2007. In January 2008, he went to Turkey where he still lives. The European Court of Human Rights later found his detention had violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Shortly before his release from detention, the government made an order depriving Al-Jedda of his British citizenship. He appealed to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). The government argued Al-Jedda had reacquired Iraqi citizenship automatically under a new Iraqi law. SIAC agreed. Al-Jedda appealed again and the Court of Appeal disagreed with SIAC on this point, holding that Al-Jedda was not an Iraqi citizen. The court therefore had to address a fall-back argument of the Home Secretary. She argued that Al-Jedda could regain Iraqi citizenship by making an application and so it was not her order which would make him stateless, but his failure to apply for Iraqi citizenship. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The Supreme Court gave the Home Secretary permission to appeal on that point.

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

The Justice Initiative intervened in the appeal by way of written submissions

Arguments

The Justice Initiative presented arguments setting out the relevant international standards. 

Significance of the Statelessness Conventions. Domestic law was introduced to implement the international conventions on statelessness and so should be interpreted accordingly. Under Article 8(1) of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, a state “shall not deprive a person of its nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless.” Article 1(1) of the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons defines a stateless person as one “who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.”

Stateless under international law. For a person to meet this definition of stateless, they must have no nationality now. The reasons they lost their old nationality—or the possibility of acquiring one in the future are irrelevant. Whether they have a nationality is decided from the viewpoint of the state of that nationality.

Failure to acquire nationality is not relevant under international law. No international or regional court has accepted that a person can be denied the status of stateless person for failure to acquire citizenship.

Purpose of the 1961 Convention. To allow deprivation of citizenship on the basis that another citizenship could be acquired would create stateless persons, against the purpose of the 1961 Convention.

International law instruments. Arbitrary deprivation of nationality is prohibited by many international and regional human rights instruments and the prohibition has been recognised by regional courts and institutions.

Timeline

1957. Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al-Jedda is born in Iraq and acquires Iraqi citizenship by birth.
1992. Al-Jedda moves to UK and claims asylum.
June 12, 2000. UK naturalises Al-Jedda as British citizen, causing him to lose Iraqi citizenship.
December 14, 2007. The government makes an order depriving Al-Jedda of British citizenship.
January 11, 2008. Al-Jedda appeals deprivation order to SIAC, arguing that the order would make him stateless.
November 26, 2010. SIAC rules that deprivation order would not make Al-Jedda stateless because he regained Iraqi citizenship under Iraqi law.
March 29, 2012. Court of Appeal allows Al-Jedda’s appeal, ruling that he never regained Iraqi citizenship and therefore a deprivation order would make him stateless.
June 24, 2013. Justice Initiative files Case for Intervener with Supreme Court.
October 9, 2013. Supreme Court dismisses Home Secretary’s appeal.

Findings

In October 2013, the United Kingdom Supreme Court held that a person becomes stateless if they are deprived of their only nationality, regardless of their rights to recover a different nationality which they previously held.

The court held that a deprivation order ‘makes a person stateless’ under Article 8(1) of 1961 Convention where the person would be left with no citizenship. The possibility of acquiring a different citizenship is irrelevant – even a right to regain citizenship. The court based this reasoning on its interpretation of Article 1(1) of the 1954 Convention that statelessness is determined by the person’s current citizenship: past and possible future citizenships are irrelevant.