The judgment handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday, banning jihadi bride Shamima Begum from returning to the UK has sparked fresh debate over her entitlement to legal aid to appeal the removal of her British citizenship by the Home Office.
Reading out the judgment of Britain’s top court, its president, Lord Reed announced the court disagreed with the Court of Appeal and held “the right of a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public.”
This means that Begum may still mount a legal challenge against the Home Office, but must do so from outside of Britain and most likely from the Syrian refugee camp in which she currently resides.
The ruling has divided many in Britain including the Conservative Party. Whilst former home secretary Sajid Javid “welcomed” the decision, David Davis decribed it as a “disappointing verdict”, claiming “the UK cannot simply wash our hands of Brits in the Syrian camps.”
Human rights groups and left-wing activists are expectedly outraged by the decision. Advocacy group Liberty said the Court’s ruling sets “an extremely dangerous precedent” whilst director of non-profit Reprieve, Maya Foa said: “Barring Shamima Begum from Britain remains a cynical ploy to make her someone else’s responsibility.”
And social media users are equally divided on another aspect of this ordeal, the fact that Begum’s legal challenge to date has been funded by the British taxpayer through legal aid.
It was reported in the British press following the Court of Appeal ruling last summer that Begum’s legal team had claimed £14,500 in legal aid attempting to win back her British citizenship.
However, the cost to the British taxpayer was reportedly closer to £30,000 that when taking into account the expenses of the Home Office in preparing its defence.
The cost following the latest appeal to Britain’s highest appellate court will be significantly higher than previous estimates, causing many to take to social media and express their outrage that Ms Begum had even qualified for funding at the taxpayers’ expense.
One user called the decision to allow Begum’s defence to operate using legal aid a “joke” asking: “How is she not an enemy of the state?”
Another asked: “Why does Shamima Begum, non British, qualify for Legal Aid? The UK must be the wokest country in the world.”
“Shamima Begum was granted legal aid despite not being a British citizen. You are paying for her legal battle. Whatever happens, lawyers always win,” said another in a tweet.
Others disagreed, with one defender of Begum saying “she deserves sympathy as well as legal aid. I can’t imagine the outcry if a white girl had been groomed in this way and go on to watch three of her babies die in her mid-teens. Shamima Begum is British and, at the time of her radicalisation, she was a British CHILD.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson pledged a review into the rules relating to legal aid following the Begum case.
He told the Sunday Telegraph in July last year: “It seems to me to be at least odd and perverse that somebody can be entitled to legal aid when they are not only outside the country, but have had their citizenship deprived for the protection of national security.
“That, amongst other things, we will be looking at.”