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Legal aid explained as IS bride seeks funding

Legal aid is seen as part of a safety net for someone who cannot afford to defend themselves.

Legal aid is the public money which is paid to lawyers (PA)
Legal aid is the public money which is paid to lawyers (PA)

Shamima Begum, who joined the Islamic State group at the age of 15, is hoping to access legal aid to challenge a decision to strip her of UK citizenship.

Here is some information about the legal aid system.

 – What is legal aid?

Legal aid is the public money which is paid to lawyers to help them lodge legal battles for clients facing a court or tribunal hearing.

It is aimed at ensuring that ordinary people have access to justice and is part of a safety net for someone who cannot afford to defend themselves.

It can be particularly important if, as in many cases, someone finds themselves facing a legal battle against a major institution such as the Government or a local authority.

It can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal and you usually need to show that your case qualifies for legal aid, that the problem is serious and you cannot afford to pay for legal costs, according to the Government’s website.

The situations are somewhat different in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but, in general, to get legal aid you have to show that the situation is serious and you cannot afford to pay yourself.

– What cases can you get legal aid for?

This type of funding could be available for a wide range of both criminal and civil cases.

Criminal cases involving someone being arrested, charged or questioned by the police could be covered by legal aid.

In civil cases it could include family matters such as mediation to resolve disputes about children and finance on a relationship breakdown, social services being involved with your children and injunctions against a violent or abusive partner or family member.

The Law Society also says it could also be gained for cases covering housing matters, asylum and immigration, debt, welfare benefits and council tax reduction, mental health or mental capacity issues, community care and if you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against.

It may also be granted for other types of cases such as assistance at inquests or as exceptional case funding in some cases for human rights issues.

– How do you qualify for it?

Legal aid is dependent on your financial position and also the strength of your case.

There is a means test as part of “a quite strict financial requirement” which must be met in order to get the funding, a Law Society spokesman said.

There is also a merits test in which the strength of the case is looked at. It means “you cannot get it if you have a hopeless case”, the spokesman said.

The proceedings take place in England and Wales but the person in whose name the case is being brought does not have to be there.

The person does not have to be a British citizen but they may still be entitled to legal aid because the proceedings will be within England and Wales.

The issues in the Shamima Begum case are to be heard at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), which brings it into the scope for potential legal aid funding.

Siac has specialist expertise in immigration, intelligence and security issues. It works as a court of appeal for those under deportation orders from the Home Secretary, or those excluded from the UK.

PA

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