Of course Shamima Begum should get Legal Aid

There seems to be some horror in the right wing press that a teenage girl is likely to get help to challenge the decision to take away her British citizenship.

At the time Sajid Javid made his decision, Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:

Membership of a terrorist group is a serious crime, as is encouraging or supporting terrorism. But Shamima Begum should face justice for those crimes in the UK.

It is not only hard to see Ms Begum and her baby as constituting a serious threat to national security, but it also seems a huge wasted opportunity. We can learn lessons as to why a young girl went to Syria in the first place; lessons which could improve Britain’s security by helping us prevent this happening again.

The decision to deprive her of her citizenship, potentially rendering her stateless, was shameful.

At Scottish Conference, Jo Swinson said:

And while we’re on the subject of the depths Tories will stoop to. Shame on you Sajid Javid for your decision on Shamima Begum, throwing human rights out the window to further your career.

The decision to strip someone of their citizenship should never be in the hands of a Minister.And it’s in the hands of Ministers like him that our country’s future rests.

It is a fundamental principle of liberalism that decisions made by the state should be open to challenge. Everyone should have access to justice and if they can’t afford to do it, they should receive help to get the advocacy they need.

It’s not a fair fight if the government can make life-changing decisions about you and there is nothing you can do about it.

The other important reason why this decision must be tested in court is because it takes policy in a new direction and is potentially in breach of international law.

Basic human rights and civil liberties apply to everyone, no matter what they have done. The Government should not be able to interfere with our freedoms without fear.

If they can get away with stripping rights of one person or group of people, they might get away with doing it to you one day.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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12 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Apr '19 - 2:26pm

    The intelligent tone and content here is just right.

    The reason for the need of the legal aid, is the reason that it should be forthcoming.

    As said in this article by Caron, these are dramatic and important decisions that every citizen must be able to challenge, even if that citizen has done something very wrong.

    However, we must not make these aspects of law and a challenge to it, absolutism writ large , rather than liberalism, more nuanced.

    When a convicted murderer sued the government for his right to obtain explicit pornography in his prison, he was making a mockery of the law , the country, morality, decency.

    If it might, in this week, be possible, to quote Jesus, ” Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, to God , the things that are God’s.”

    Some things are absolute, some relative. In between there is room for doubt and, that most appropriate word on this topic, judgement.

    Loss of citizenship, the citizenship stripped by the state, for someone not yet found guilty in a court, is an absolutely important subject, thus a need for legal aid.

    Prisoner’s rights to other than basic necessities, if convicted in a court of law, are deniable.

    Or what else is the point of justice for all, including victims of wrongdoers.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Apr '19 - 2:27pm

    The legal issue is also whether she is a dual national. The other nation has disclaimed her. Her baby has died.
    If the UK disclaims her she becomes stateless.
    Although the UK signed the Statelessness convention a Labour government changed policy to refusal on the basis that statelessness is not in the Immigration Rules (secondary legislation).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convention_on_the_Reduction_of_Statelessness

  • JONATHAN HUNT 16th Apr '19 - 3:02pm

    It is entirely wrong that decisions about citizenship should be made by a politician for political reasons. There should be a judicial panel that decides such matters, which would be open for appeal to the High Court or Court of Appeal.

    Provided the government hasn’t flogged them off, of course.

  • Real Liberal 16th Apr '19 - 3:56pm

    It is a fundamental principle of liberalism that decisions made by elected representatives should not be overturned by judges

  • Laurence Cox 16th Apr '19 - 4:21pm

    @Real Liberal

    It is a fundamental principle of liberalism that the rule of law applies to everyone equally from the highest to the lowest. Elective dictatorship is not liberalism.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Apr '19 - 5:08pm

    Real Liberal 16th Apr ’19 – 3:56pm
    “It is a fundamental principle of liberalism that decisions made by elected representatives should not be overturned by judges.”

    That might be a fundamental principle of something (though generally when people start talking about “fundamental principles” I reach for my BS detector and shield), but it surely ain’t liberalism.

  • Mike Norman 16th Apr '19 - 8:17pm

    Full disclosure- speaking as a legal aid lawyer.
    The problem with the argument that elected representatives can make decisions in relation to citizens, with no level of scrutiny through the courts, is tantamount to reducing human rights conventions to an irrelevance. The whole point of human rights is to protect citizens against the excesses of executive power, democratically elected or otherwise. Equally important to recognise is that we don’t have nearly enough legal aid in this country, especially since 2013 (I know, I know, and don’t my Labour supporting friends let me forget this): we need to be extremely careful to guard against an ‘anti legal aid’ movement becaualse the truth is that legal aid cuts have indirectly allowed a lot of poverty and injustice across the board.

  • I understand that Shamima Begum has been granted Legal Aid.
    However, given her current location, and the nature of the case, I assume that she doesn’t have to physically be present in the UK for legal aid purposes. Ie. it cannot be used as a ruse to get her moved out of her current situation to the UK before the case has been decided.
    Additionally, given her husband is a Dutch national (although his current circumstances aren’t any less complex), is there an expectation in some quarters, that she should/will be applying for Dutch citizenship/residency and thus she is stateless through personal choice.
    Overall this case does raise many questions with few answers and hence make it a candidate for exploring this area of UK law.

  • I don’t agree with the decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship and I think granting legal aid is the right thing. I do wonder if we would be so keen to describe her as a victim if she had joined up with Timothy McVeigh or one of the groups suspected of links to the recent New Zealand atrocity or something like that.

  • Philip Moss 17th Apr '19 - 1:02pm

    No one should be made stateless. Begum is our responsibility as a UK subject.
    Give her back her passport, will avoid cost of legal aid for that problem.
    Bring her back to the UK , and try to help her.
    Unless of course we want a new system, if a UK citizen goes abroad to escape our
    courts, then it will be a lot cheaper to take away their passport, than to bring them back and have an expensive court case and then a long time in jail.Go for it, Javid I can see you being leader of the Cons.

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