Legal aid for IS teenager Shamima Begum makes me uncomfortable – Jeremy Hunt

The Foreign Secretary has said giving Shamima Begum access to legal aid to challenge the decision to deprive her of UK citizenship would make him “very uncomfortable”.

Jeremy Hunt said Ms Begum, who left the UK at the age of 15 to marry an Islamic State fighter, “knew the choices she was making”, but acknowledged that the UK is a country which believes people should have access to legal representation.

The Daily Mail reports that Ms Begum is now hoping to get legal aid to challenge a decision to strip her of UK citizenship.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt said: “On a personal level, it makes me very uncomfortable because she made a series of choices and she knew the choices she was making, so I think we made decisions about her future based on those choices.

“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 and, for obvious reasons, those decisions are made independent from politicians.”

Mr Hunt added: “The decision to deprive her of her citizenship was taken by a politician. Obviously the decision about whether she accesses legal aid or not has to be done independently.”

Dal Babu, a former chief superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, is a friend of the family.

He told Today that Ms Begum should have legal aid to make sure the correct process is followed.

Mr Babu said: “Isis is a murderous organisation. They are a horrendous organisation and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would be joining that organisation.

“She was a young woman. She was 15 when she was groomed. The police were aware of this, the counter-terrorism police were aware of this, the school she was at was aware of this, and the social workers at Tower Hamlets Council were aware of this.

“There has been no serious case review. Normally, when a young person dies as a result of failures in safeguarding, there is a serious case review.”

Mr Babu said that, in order for a proper review to take place, Ms Begum needed to get legal aid.

“I think legal aid is a principle of the British legal justice system. There will be people who can afford to have swanky lawyers, there will be people who have no money who are in desperate situations.”

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.”

Mark Tipper, whose brother Trooper Simon Tipper was killed in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, is among critics who have condemned the move as “absolutely disgusting”, according to the Daily Mail.

He was refused funding to pursue a case in the civil courts, although the decision was later reversed following public outrage.

Corey Stoughton, advocacy director at Liberty human rights group, described the granting of legal aid in this case as “not just appropriate but absolutely necessary to ensure that the Government’s decisions are properly scrutinised”.

She said: “Stripping someone of their citizenship is among the most severe punishments a government can exercise, and the evidence that this decision will render Shamima Begum effectively stateless presents a powerful argument for subjecting this case to rigorous scrutiny in court.

“This case could have widespread repercussions for thousands of people, and more broadly for how the Government uses dramatic powers to take away fundamental rights.”

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