THE BLOG
25/06/2015 07:41 BST | Updated 24/06/2016 06:59 BST

The Rights of a British Citizen - To Have and to Hold Your Passport

My blogs always focus around elements of immigration but what about the fundamentals of nationality itself? What are your rights as a British citizen? What are your rights with respect to freedom of speech? What are your rights in being allowed to travel freely both in and out of the UK?

In a time when we regularly hear of young British men and women - some only children travelling to Syria to fight and to be Jihadi brides - do you agree that the Secretary of State should have the power to confiscate passports and stop such individuals travelling abroad? I am also aware that in recent months individuals who allegedly travel abroad to engage in football hooliganism have also had their passports seized.

Every British passport remains the property of Her Majesty's Government and may be withdrawn at any time. The power to revoke and refuse passports has long been regulated by government policy, the most recent version of which states amongst other things that these powers may be invoked to stop British nationals who may seek to harm the UK or its allies by, for example, engaging in terrorism-related activity. The removal of a passport does not however remove a person's right to travel abroad, a common law freedom embodied in Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that everyone shall be free to leave any country, including their own. The effect of withdrawal of a passport simply makes the process more difficult for individuals by denying the person a universally acceptable means to cross borders. The UK government has therefore made a provision for the banning of travel under the Terrorism Investigation and Prevention Act 2011.

The significance of such powers globally is highlighted by the Australian government's introduction into parliament this week of a new bill entitled Allegiance to Australia. The aim of this legislation will be to block the return of Australian dual nationals suspected of terrorism as well as to deport court-convicted terrorists. In the UK, such powers are not new and were previously exercised by the Secretary of State under Defence Regulation 18B which was enacted in 1939. Regulation 18B permitted the internment of people if there was reasonable cause to believe that they had hostile associations. Regulation 18B was utilised throughout World War II, against persons suspected of being Nazi sympathisers. The effect of Regulation 18B was to suspend the right of affected individuals to habeas corpus.

One of the most famous cases on this issue, Liversidge v. Anderson, remains influential to this day on civil liberties and the separation of powers. Robert Liversidge was committed to prison with no reason, a decision upheld by the House of Lords on the basis that the Secretary of State when acting in good faith, needed not disclose the basis for his decision, nor were his actions justiciable in a court of law. Perhaps controversially it was thought inappropriate for a court to deal with matters of national security, especially as they were not privy to classified information that only the executive had. This extreme judicial deference to executive decision-making is best explained by the context of war, and arguably has no place in modern society. However, in an era of rising terrorism, we are seeing the significance and extent of such powers re-emerge as topical issues.

Scott Wright, an up and coming US playwright is currently exploring this issue in his debut play, with acclaimed performances at several theatres around the UK. It is not often I would refer to a play as simply brilliant - but that is what it is. Regulation 18B - No Free Man is a play written about a case that occurred almost 8 decades ago, yet the themes continue to resonate when we are exploring today's civil liberties and rights as British citizens.

An enthralling one act play it is not only engaging in terms of its writing and delivery but invites audience participation and comment with a panel discussion at the end.

It struck me at just how relevant this case remains when listening to the discussion. We remain as a nation still very much divided on this issue. It showed just how varying people's viewpoints are on this particular issue and raises the bar for debating the purpose (and fate) of the Human Rights Act, conflicts between national security and civil liberties, and the ever important doctrine of the separation of powers.

The play is finishing its run this week and next - this weekend at for two performances (26-27 June) at Windsor Guildhall and on Thursday 2nd July in the historic Hall at Gray's Inn in London - if you can get yourself a ticket you will not be disappointed.

Parts of this blog were researched by Amy Baker, Trainee Solicitor and Christina Mouktari, Summer Intern at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.