Shamima Begum given legal aid for citizenship fight

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LONDON: The 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who left east London in 2015, was stripped of her citizenship in February, after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp. Her family has previously said it planned to challenge the decision, BBC has reported.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Legal Aid Agency’s decision to assist Ms Begum made him very uncomfortable. He added, however, that the UK was “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 is financial assistance provided by the taxpayer to those unable to afford legal representation themselves, whether they are accused of a crime or a victim who seeks the help of a lawyer through the court process. It is means-tested and availability has been cut back significantly in recent years in England and Wales.

Civil servants at the Legal Aid Agency, which is part of the Ministry of Justice, are responsible for making decisions about who receives legal aid.

The legal aid that has been granted covers a case before the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which adjudicates on cases where the home secretary has stripped someone of their nationality on grounds of national security.

Ms Begum left the UK in February 2015 alongside fellow Bethnal Green Academy pupils 15-year-old Amira Abase and 16-year-old Kadiza Sultana. Ms Begum was found in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019 and said she wanted to return home.