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Amendment to Immigration Bill allows Home Secretary to make people stateless

Amendment to Immigration Bill allows Home Secretary to make people stateless

Only yesterday, the day before the debate on the third reading of her Immigration Bill, the Home Secretary published a proposed amendment to the Bill whereby she will be able to deprive a person of British citizenship acquired by naturalisation even if by doing so she will render the person stateless.  She will be able to use that power if the person ‘has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the UK.

Nearly 60 years ago the Supreme Court of the US decided in Trop v Dulles (1957) 356 US 86 that it was ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ to deprive a person of citizenship, making him or her ‘an outcast in his own land’.  Chief Justice Warren said:

There may be involved no physical mistreatment, no primitive torture. There is instead a total destruction of the individual’s status in organised society . . . the punishment strips a citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself . . . In short the expatriate has lost the right to have rights.


Road to Nowhere by Stuart Anthony
Road to Nowhere by Stuart Anthony

In more prosaic terms, Home Office Guidance issued on 1 May 2013 on ‘Applications for leave to remain as a stateless person’ said: ‘Statelessness has been estimated to affect up to 12 million people worldwide.  Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights.  Those who are stateless may, for example, be denied the right to own land or exercise the right to vote.  They are often unable to obtain identity documents; they may be detained because they are stateless; and they can be denied access to education and health services or blocked from obtaining employment’.

‘The evil of statelessness’ (to use the words of the Supreme Court in Secretary of State for the Home Department v Al – Jedda [2013] UKSC 62) is a ‘profound concern’ of the United Nations which has produced two Conventions on the issue – the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961.  The UK has signed both.  Article 8 of the 1961 Convention says that a contracting state ‘shall not deprive a person of his nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless’.  Although Article 8(3) allows the state to derogate from that obligation in respect of a person who ‘has conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state’, the UK has, until now, deliberately eschewed reliance on that derogation.  Section 56 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 passed in the aftermath of the 7 July 2005 bombings, gave the Secretary of State the power to deprive a person of British citizenship on the ground that it was conducive to the public good, but not if to do so would render the person stateless.

As the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association says in its briefing on the amendment, by enacting it ‘the UK risks losing a proud position, a position of solidarity, a potential position of leadership.’  Instead of remaining at the forefront of international efforts to reduce statelessness, the UK will be promoting the evil and setting an example to other states.  They will be encouraged to believe that instead of using criminal law and due process against people who they think are prejudicing their vital interests they may simply render them outlaws, stripped of the panoply of human rights whose enjoyment really depends on possession of a citizenship.

On any view, the amendment represents a momentous step with profound implications for the relationship between British citizens and the British state.  That being the case, it really is disgraceful that the Home Secretary should have chosen to put the amendment forward only the day before the Bill reaches the end of its passage through the House of Commons and when she knows that much of the day allotted for debating the Bill will be taken up with debate on her backbenchers’ amendments concerned with migration from Europe.  It is conduct which bespeaks contempt for genuine Parliamentary scrutiny of her legislation.

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Ronan Toal

Ronan is a specialist immigration law barrister. He is ranked in Chambers and Partners and the Legal 500, who say he has ‘outstanding knowledge of very technical aspects of immigration law’.

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