IS bride Shamima Begum is appealing for legal aid to fight for her British citizenship – but Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says he would be “very uncomfortable” if she got the support.
Dal Babu, a former chief superintendent in the Metropolitan Police and friend of Begum’s relatives, confirmed the family has put in a request on the 19-year-old’s behalf for taxpayer money to fight her legal costs.
Tasnime Akunjee, who has represented the Begum family since 2015, travelled to Syria in March to attempt to reach Shamima Begum but was turned away by officials at the refugee camp, meaning the teenager has been unable to directly instruct a lawyer.
Mr Akunjee lodged an appeal for Shamima Begum with the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).
Last month, he sent a letter on behalf of the family to the Home Secretary Sajid Javid asking to revoke the decision to strip the Bethnal Green woman of her citizenship as “an act of mercy” following the death of her three-week-old son.
It is understood Shamima Begum’s case is now being handled by human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, who has worked on a number of high-profile cases, including representing the family of Jean Charles de Menezes who was shot dead by police in London after being misidentified.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said if Begum is given access to legal aid, it would make him “very uncomfortable”.
He told the BBC: “On a personal level, it makes me very uncomfortable… 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.”
Legal aid in the UK can be provided to anyone, regardless of their citizenship, so long as the candidate can show they are unable to pay for their own legal costs and that the problem is serious.
Shamima Begum left the UK aged 15 and married an Islamic State (IS) fighter.
She has claimed she was no more than a housewife, but the Mail on Sunday, citing intelligence officials, reported Begum had been a part of the terrorist group’s morality police and would prepare suicide vests.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said they do not comment on individual cases, but added “any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are based on all available evidence and not taken lightly”.
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.”