Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Legal aid to Shamima Begum 'makes me very uncomfortable' says Hunt as Javid admits he 'understands concerns'

The foreign secretary and the home secretary have both commented on reports over Shamima Begum's legal aid. Credit: PA/ITV News

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has said giving IS bride Shamima Begum access to legal aid would make him "very uncomfortable".

Mr Hunt's comments come as Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he can "understand" concerns over reports Ms Begum is seeking UK help to challenge the decision to deprive her of citizenship.

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 the UK is a country which believes people should have access to legal representation.

He 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."

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who made the initial decision to revoke her citizenship, told ITV News he can "understand there will be some concern amongst the public around why people get legal aid for certain types of issues".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that decision by Mr Javid was "very questionable" and claimed 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 Javid said: "I understand that concern but whether someone gets legal aid or they don't get legal aid, it's rightly an independent decision for legal aid agencies, not a decision for ministers but I do understand people's concerns."

It has been reported in the Daily Mail that Ms Begum is now hoping to get legal aid to challenge a decision to strip her of UK citizenship.

Mr Corbyn was speaking during a visit to an activity centre near Halifax. Credit: PA

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."

Speaking during a visit to an activity centre near Halifax, Mr Corbyn 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.

"A court must make that decision and every person in front of a court, whatever they're accused of doing, how heinous or bad the crime is, is entitled to that representation."

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says giving Shamima Begum access to legal aid would make him 'very uncomfortable'. Credit: PA

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.

Shamima Begum left the UK for Syria aged 15 and joined a terror organisation. Credit: ITV News

"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."

  • What is legal aid?

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.

It can be particularly important if, as in many cases, someone finds themselves facing a legal battle against a major institution such as the Government or a local authority.

It can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal and you usually need to show that your case qualifies for legal aid, that the problem is serious and you cannot afford to pay for legal costs, according to the Government's website.

The situations are somewhat different in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but, in general, to get legal aid you have to show that the situation is serious and you cannot afford to pay yourself.

  • What cases can you get legal aid for?

This type of funding could be available for a wide range of both criminal and civil cases.

Criminal cases involving someone being arrested, charged or questioned by the police could be covered by legal aid.

In civil cases it could include family matters such as mediation to resolve disputes about children and finance on a relationship breakdown, social services being involved with your children and injunctions against a violent or abusive partner or family member.

The Law Society also says it could also be gained for cases covering housing matters, asylum and immigration, debt, welfare benefits and council tax reduction, mental health or mental capacity issues, community care and if you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against.

It may also be granted for other types of cases such as assistance at inquests or as exceptional case funding in some cases for human rights issues.

  • How do you qualify for it?

Legal aid is dependent on your financial position and also the strength of your case.

There is a means test as part of "a quite strict financial requirement" which must be met in order to get the funding, a Law Society spokesman said.

There is also a merits test in which the strength of the case is looked at.

It means "you cannot get it if you have a hopeless case", the spokesman said.

The proceedings take place in England and Wales but the person in whose name the case is being brought does not have to be there.

The person does not have to be a British citizen but they may still be entitled to legal aid because the proceedings will be within England and Wales.

The issues in the Shamima Begum case are to be heard at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), which brings it into the scope for potential legal aid funding.

Siac has specialist expertise in immigration, intelligence and security issues. It works as a court of appeal for those under deportation orders from the Home Secretary, or those excluded from the UK.