Jihadi bride Shamima Begum has been granted legal aid to fight the decision to remove her citizenship, the Mail can reveal today.
In a decision blasted as disgusting’ and ridiculous by MPs, lawyers have successfully asked for taxpayers cash on her behalf, arguing that Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision was unfair on the 19-year-old Islamic State acolyte.
It means taxpayers face a legal bill which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds to fund the former London schoolgirl’s fight to come back to the UK. She is currently in a refugee camp in Syria.
Last night there was fury at the decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), which emerged on the day it was alleged that Begum had stitched suicide bombers into explosive vests. It was also claimed she carried a Kalashnikov rifle and served in a senior role in the IS’s ‘morality police’ as an enforcer of its laws.
The British-born schoolgirl left her family in East London to join IS the age of 15 in February 2015. She lived in the Syrian city of Raqqa and married a Dutch jihadi named Yago Riedijk with whom she had three children, all of whom died as infants.
After being missing for four years, the teenager resurfaced at a refugee camp earlier this year saying she wanted to come home and pleading to be allowed back.
In a dramatic move, Mr Javid ordered that she be stripped of her citizenship ‘in order to protect this country’.
However, the Mail has now learnt that British taxpayers will help pay for her court battle to return, even though Begum has not applied for legal aid herself, nor formally instructed lawyers.
Although lawyers have not been able to speak to her in the refugee camp, the LAA has apparently accepted that her family can initiate an appeal and apply for funding on her behalf. In an extraordinary twist, two law firms applied for the cash on her behalf, with one claiming it had instructions through a third party, but the LAA agreed to grant the funding only to lawyers instructed by her family.
Begum will not be able to attend the case – which will be decided by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – because she has been barred from returning to Britain.
Last night, there was outrage over the decision, particularly from those who had been denied legal aid in other high-profile cases. A relative of one of the four soldiers killed in the Hyde Park bombing said he was ‘disgusted’ by the move.
Mark Tipper, whose brother Trooper Simon Tipper, 19, was killed in the 1982 atrocity, was refused funding to pursue IRA terrorist John Downey in the civil courts, although the decision was later reversed following public outrage.
Mr Tipper said: It’s absolutely disgusting. You have got someone who has turned their back on their country and supports a terrorist group, then wants to come back and what does the Legal Aid Agency do? Gives her money to fund that fight.
It’s extraordinary, it’s totally wrong and it just shows how bad the legal aid system is.
Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer who has represented Begum’s family since 2015, confirmed that legal aid had been granted after an application was made on March 19. Mr Akunjee launched the appeal against Mr Javid’s decision but he was unable to take formal instruction from Begum after authorities at the al-Roj refugee camp would not let him see her.
He passed the case to renowned human rights solicitor Gareth Peirce, who has represented British clients held outside of the UK such as former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg.
Ordinarily, anyone seeking legal aid has to apply in writing or online, filling out a form supplying evidence of eligibility such as bank statements or pay slips to satisfy the means test. But Mr Akunjee said Miss Peirce had satisfied the authorities that the normal documentation could not be provided.
He added: ‘I represent the family who initially brought the case on behalf of Shamima Begum, but the family are not entitled to legal aid – the legal aid is for Shamima Begum alone.’
Even though Begum is no longer a British citizen, legal aid rules state that funding should be available if the case is held in a British court and you have no means to pay.
How she has been allowed to sponge off taxpayers’ money to get back into a country that she hates is absolutely ridiculous.
Tory MP Tim Loughton, former chairman of the home affairs select committee, said: ‘This shows that the Home Secretary was right to strip her of British citizenship.
Playing the victim card when she has clearly been an active and willing participant in the most barbaric terrorist organisation in the world has now been exposed for the lie it was and the UK should have nothing to do with her.
The Home Office said: ‘We do not comment on individual cases, but any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are based on all available evidence and not taken lightly.’
A Legal Aid Agency spokesman said last night: 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.
Miss Begum’s father Ahmed Ali said: If she has done anything wrong, she should be brought to England and punished.