IS bride Shamima Begum appealing for legal aid to fight for UK citizenship

April 15, 2019

IS bride Shamima Begum is appealing for legal aid to fight for her British citizenship - but Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says he would be "very uncomfortable" if she got the support.

Her family, who had been pursuing Shamima Begum's legal action on her behalf, had previously been granted legal aid.

A lawyer for Shamima Begum has lodged a bid for legal aid for the 19-year-old directly, which would mean the legal aid granted to her family would be rescinded.

It is understood Begum's case is now being handled directly by human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, who has worked on a number of high-profile cases, including representing the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead by police in London after being misidentified.

Tasnime Akunjee, who has represented the Begum family since 2015, travelled to Syria in March to attempt to reach Shamima Begum but was turned away by officials at a refugee camp where she lives.

An appeal appeal for Begum on behalf of her family had been lodged with the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which has now been withdrawn to allow a second SIAC appeal lodged by Ms Peirce to proceed as it takes precedent.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said if Begum is given access to legal aid, it would make him "very uncomfortable".

He told the BBC: "On a personal level, it makes me very uncomfortable... However, we are a country that believes that people with limited means should have access to the resources of the state if they want to challenge the decisions the state has made about them."

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: "In my understanding, it's not the first time that someone who for national security reasons has had their citizenship deprived... has received legal aid.

"But on that issue itself it should be an independent decision and not for ministers."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supported Shamima Begum's bid for legal aid, adding: "Creating stateless people in the world isn't going to solve any problems.

"If she comes back here, she's obviously going to have to face a lot of questioning, she's obviously going to have to face the possibility of legal action being taken against her. But that seems to me to be the right thing to do so, that way, you're also going get the intelligence on what she did and what happened to her as well."

Legal aid in the UK can be provided to anyone, regardless of their citizenship, so long as the candidate can show they are unable to pay for their own legal costs and that the problem is serious.

Shamima Begum left the UK four years ago when she was aged 15 and then she married an Islamic State (IS) fighter. She has claimed she was no more than a housewife.

Last month, Mr Akunjee sent a letter on behalf of the family to Mr Javid asking him to reverse the decision to strip the Bethnal Green teenager of her citizenship as "an act of mercy" following the death of her three-week-old son.

However, this weekend the Mail on Sunday, citing intelligence officials, reported Begum had been a part of the terrorist group's morality police and would prepare suicide vests.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said they did not comment on individual cases, but added "any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are based on all available evidence and not taken lightly".

A Legal Aid Agency spokesman said: "We are unable to comment on individual cases. Anybody applying for legal aid in a Special Immigration Appeal Commission case is subject to strict eligibility tests."

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