Shamima Begum entitled to apply for legal aid, says Corbyn

Dispute over aid for ‘Isis bride’ over possible challenge to decision to strip British citizenship

Shamima Begum, who left the UK at the age of 15 to marry an Islamic State fighter in Syria. Photograph:  PA/

Shamima Begum, who left the UK at the age of 15 to marry an Islamic State fighter in Syria. Photograph: PA/

 

Jeremy Corbyn has joined lawyers and human rights groups in defending the right of “Isis bride” Shamima Begum to be granted legal aid so that the east London teenager can challenge the decision to remove her UK citizenship.

The Labour Party leader said that, whatever crimes Ms Begum was accused of after she left the UK to marry an Islamic State fighter in Syria at the age of 15, she was entitled to proper legal representation.

“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 told reporters on Monday.

“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.”

His intervention came as British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the idea that Ms Begum could receive taxpayer funding to challenge the decision to remove her citizenship made him “very uncomfortable”.

He added: “She knew the choices she was making, so I think we made decisions about her future based on those choices.”

Leaks

The row over her entitlement to publicly funded legal support grew further on Monday as the solicitor representing her family accused the government of breaching the Official Secrets Act by selectively leaking intelligence reports to sympathetic media, which has damaged her reputation.

Tasnime Akunjee, who represents Ms Begum’s family, also revealed he is acting on behalf of others held in Syrian camps who have been stripped of their nationality rights. He warned that the number of such cases is likely to grow.

A Legal Aid Agency spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on individual cases. “Anybody applying for legal aid in a Special Immigration Appeals Commission [Siac] case is subject to strict eligibility tests.”

Ms Begum, now 19, should be allowed to appeal against the decision of the home secretary, Sajid Javid, to deprive her of her citizenship, Ms Akunjee told the Guardian.

“[Javid] initiated a legal process and under that she’s entitled to appeal,” Mr Akunjee said. “Legal aid enables her to fund that application with the help of solicitors. Those accused of serious crimes, such as rape, murder or terrorism, are regularly granted legal aid in the context of legal proceedings.”

He expects there to be a legal challenge, arguing that she should be able to return to the UK to fight the case in order to have a fair hearing.

Several newspapers at the weekend carried reports, said to have been based on intelligence sent to the home office and Downing Street, alleging that Ms Begum was an enforcer working with the Isis morality police and had supposedly sewed up suicide bombers’ vests.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors across England and Wales, also backed Ms Begum’s entitlement to legal aid. In a detailed blog, the anonymous Secret Barrister urged the government to ensure “equal treatment before the law” by granting legal aid.

Dal Babu, a former chief superintendent in the Metropolitan police and friend of the family, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Ms Begum was 15 when she was “groomed” by Isis and she should be given legal aid, which is a “principle of the British legal justice system”.” – Guardian