Lords must oppose plans which would expose millions to “punishment more primitive than torture”

March 17, 2014

The House of Lords will today vote on plans which would allow the Home Secretary to deprive millions of Britons of their citizenship – a measure which the US Supreme Court in 1958 held to be “a form of punishment more primitive than torture.”

Theresa May is pushing for new powers which would allow her to deprive any Briton not born in this country of their citizenship, even if that would result in them being made stateless.  The move would be in the hands of the Home Secretary alone, and no legal process would be required before the measure could be taken.

It would leave an estimated 3.4 million British citizens vulnerable to being arbitrarily made stateless in England and Wales alone, according to figures from the 2011 census.

Such a measure was held by the United States Supreme Court in the 1950s to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and that the

“use of denationalization as a punishment [means] the total destruction of the individual’s status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development…In short, [s/he] has lost the right to have rights.”

The measure was introduced in a last-minute amendment to the Immigration Bill during its passage through the Commons earlier this year, in what was described by commentators as a “last-ditch bid to reduce a damaging Tory rebellion in the Commons.”

Legal charity Reprieve is urging peers to back a cross-party amendment tabled by legal experts Lord Pannick QC and Baroness Kennedy QC which would remove the measures by stripping Theresa May’s Clause 60 out of the Bill.

Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “Is Parliament really prepared to subject British citizens to powers so draconian they were rejected by the US as ‘more primitive than torture’?  This measure will not only give the Home Secretary dangerous, unchecked powers to tear up people’s passports – perhaps worse, it will create two classes of British citizen.  It will send a message to millions of law abiding Britons that, simply because of where they were born, and regardless of whether they have committed any crime, one politician will be able to ruin their lives with the stroke of a pen.  It must be rejected by the Lords.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / +44 (0) 7791 755 415 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. The US Supreme Court judgement, made in Trop v Dulles, 1958, can be found here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/356/86

3. According to the 2011 census in England and Wales, “Almost half (46 per cent, 3.4 million) of the non-UK born usually resident population held a UK passport in 2011” http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_310441.pdf

4. Theresa May’s amendment was reported as a “last-ditch bid to reduce a damaging Tory rebellion in the Commons”: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/29/theresa-may-terror-suspects-citizenship-clegg-approval