I can’t say I’m happy that the UK is likely to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on legal aid for Shamima Begum’s bid to regain her citizenship.
As you know if you read my previous work on this subject, I subscribe to the belief that Ms Begum knew exactly what she was doing when she left the UK to join a terrorist organisation (Islamic State) that wants to end the way of life enjoyed by citizens of this country, and I think her plea to be returned to the UK – at our expense – was motivated only by the fact that IS appeared about to be wiped off the map.
It’s the prevailing belief across the UK but proved controversial in some parts of the Internet, where critics suggested my view was racist and ignored the grooming (wrong word – they meant radicalisation) of innocent people into supporting terrorism.
It seems to me that there’s only one way to find out who’s right – and that is to have all the relevant information aired in a court of law.
So I reluctantly support the provision of legal aid in this single case.
But I object to the Tory hypocrisy about it.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (April 15), foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt justified the decision to grant legal aid by saying: “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 and, for obvious reasons, those decisions are made independent from politicians.”
That’s two falsehoods in one sentence.
The Conservatives certainly do not believe people with limited means should have access to state resources to challenge state decisions.
And they don’t want those decisions to be made independently.
The Conservative Party has cut legal aid to members of the public by 20 per cent – severely restricting access to justice.
The Tories’ Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act of 2012 cut the legal aid budget by £350 million and ended the right to legal representation in large areas of the law on divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education.
Amnesty International said the cuts had created a “two-tier” system that denied the poorest people access to justice.
Particularly hard-hit have been people with disabilities; the total number of disabled people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011-12 to just 308 in 2016-17.
And this is exactly as the Tories wanted it.
Back in 2013, I wrote:
“This vindictive government of millionaires intends to make it impossible for the poorest and most vulnerable in society to seek legal redress against cruel and unwarranted decisions that will withdraw from them the money they use to keep themselves a hairs-breadth away from destitution.
“It is a decision to attack the poor for the fun of it.”
So when Jeremy Hunt tells the BBC, in all his hypocrisy, that “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”, then we – the country – know he is excluding his government from that statement.
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