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Legal aid row erupts over Shamima Begum UK citizenship fight

PUBLISHED: 14:22 16 April 2019

Shamima Begum was stripped of her citizenship. Picture: Met Police

Shamima Begum was stripped of her citizenship. Picture: Met Police

MPS

A row has erupted over whether or not Shamima Begum should have access to legal aid to challenge a decision to deprive her of UK citizenship.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. Picture: PA Wire/PA ImagesForeign secretary Jeremy Hunt. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said Ms Begum, who left home in Bethnal Green 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.

But Mr Hunt said the idea she could receive taxpayer funding to challenge the decision to remove her citizenship made him “very uncomfortable”.

However, Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that, whatever crimes Ms Begum was accused of, she was entitled to proper legal representation.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has refused to comment on a Daily Mail report that Ms Begum, who left the UK at the age of 15 to marry an IS fighter, has now been granted legal aid.

A LAA spokesman said: “We are unable to comment on individual cases.”

Home secretary Sajid Javid took the decision to strip her of her rights after the teenager, now aged 19, turned up at a refugee camp in Syria.

But Mr Corbyn said Mr Javid's decision was “very questionable” and that it was up to the LAA 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,” he said.

“The whole point of legal aid is that if you're facing a prosecution then you're entitled to be represented and that's a fundamental rule of law, a fundamental point in any democratic society.

“We cannot and should not judge outside of a court.”

Dal Babu, a former chief superintendent at the Met Police, is a friend of the family.

He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that Ms Begum should have legal aid to make sure the correct process is followed.

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”.

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