Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he does not like the idea that Islamic State bride Shamima Begum “who turned her back on this country” will receive legal aid.
The 19-year-old was stripped of her British citizenship in February by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid after she turned up in a refugee camp in Syria ahead of the fall of the group’s self-proclaimed territorial caliphate.
Mr Williamson’s comments came after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the idea that the teenager who left Britain in 2015 could receive taxpayer funding to challenge the decision to remove her citizenship made him “very uncomfortable”.
Speaking at The Royal London Hospital on Tuesday and asked for his thoughts on Ms Begum getting legal aid, Mr Williamson told ITV News: “Quite frankly the British people don’t like it, and quite simply neither do I.
“It is something that people cannot see as to why she is getting legal aid when she turned her back on this country.”
Pressed for his thoughts on how the legal aid would allow her to have a fair trial, Mr Williamson stressed again that she made a decision to turn her back on Britain.
He added: “The Home Secretary has made a judgment, it was a fair judgment, and it is a shame public money is going this way.”
Asked by reporters if the legal aid rules should be changed in the wake of her case, he added how “this goes to show that this is something that needs to be looked at afresh”.
Legal aid is the public money which is paid to lawyers to help them lodge legal battles for clients facing a court or tribunal hearing.
It is aimed at ensuring that ordinary people have access to justice and is part of a safety net for someone who cannot afford to defend themselves.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn defended Ms Begum’s right to apply for legal aid, stating on Monday that whatever crimes Ms Begum was accused of, she was entitled to proper legal representation.
He said the decision by Mr Javid to strip the teenager of her citizenship was “very questionable” and that it was up to the Legal Aid Agency to decide whether she should receive assistance.
“She is a British national and, therefore, she has that right, like any of us do, to apply for legal aid if she has a problem. She has legal rights, just like anybody else does,” Mr Corbyn added.
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.”