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UK government spent over £55,000 on legal fees against Emma DeSouza

“You have to be at the very bottom or you have to be rich to use the legal system,” DeSouza said.

Image: Niall Carson

THE UK GOVERNMENT spent over £55,000 on legal fees to pursue an immigration case against Derry woman and activist Emma DeSouza. 

In what was originally an immigration case, but became a test of whether the UK is honouring the Good Friday Agreement in allowing Northern Ireland citizens to choose to be either British or Irish or both, Emma De Souza and her husband Jake have fought a legal challenge for five years against the assertion from the UK government that Emma is legally a British citizen. 

De Souza had originally won a case against the UK’s Home Office after the first tier tribunal deemed she was British when her US-born husband Jake applied for a residence card.

The judge in that tribunal argued that the Good Friday Agreement “supersedes” British domestic law: “Nationality cannot therefore be imposed upon them at birth.”

But DeSouza lost the Upper Tribunal case, where another judge argued that “a person’s nationality cannot depend in law on an undisclosed state of mind.” 

The DeSouzas had lodged a challenge in the Court of Appeal in Belfast to a ruling that those born in Northern Ireland are automatically British citizens. but during this process, the Home Office changed its immigration laws, resolving the immigration issue that was at the heart of the Northern Ireland rights test case.

As a result of this, the DeSouzas decided to drop the Court of Appeal case.

Through a Freedom of Information request released by the Home Office to Emma DeSouza, and seen by TheJournal.ie, some of the costs spent by the UK government on fighting this case were revealed to be worth £55,374.

The Home Office said that the Crown Solicitor’s Office has charged the following costs (excluding VAT) to the Home Office:

  • £4,927.08 for the financial year 2018-2019;
  • £7,424.97 (for the financial year 2019-2020, but only up to 21 May).

Costs in the appeal to Upper Tribunal were also awarded to two barristers:

  • Philip Henry (Junior Counsel)
  • £15,189.17
  • £3,037.83 (VAT)
  • Total: £18,227.00
  • Tony McGleenan QC (Senior Counsel)
  • £13,920.00
  • £2,784.00 (VAT)
  • Total: £16,704.00

The costs in the dropped Court of Appeal case were awarded to Tony McGleenan QC.

  • £6,720.00
  • £1,344.00 (VAT)
  • Total: £8,064.00

These costs don’t include the first tier tribunal or internal Home Office costs.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Emma DeSouza said that these costs and seniority of the legal team indicate the lengths the Home Office had gone to to fight against the provisions in the Good Friday Agreement that citizens from Northern Ireland can identify as British or Irish or both.

DeSouza added that they still have £8,000 to bay back in legal fees, after not being entitled to free legal aid or other financial assistance. 

We were also required us to give up a lot of things a young married couple have – instead of saving for a house we invested our savings into this case.  

“The case substantially set us back, and the only reason we could progress to the stage that we did, and it was something that was really hard for us to do, was crowfunding.

DeSouza said that two years into the case, the UK government brought in a QC, so they were also required to bring one in, which meant they had to opt for crowdfunding.

“If it wasn’t for the generosity of normal people like us, we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

They raised over £30,000 in the past two years through crowdfunding. 

“The thing about legal aid is, you need to be pretty much unemployed to get it,” DeSouza explains. “The fact that I had a full time job means that I can’t apply for legal aid. You have to be at the very bottom or you have to be really rich to use the legal system.” 

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On the figures released to DeSouza under FOI, she says that she had to “fight very hard” to have them released to her.

When I saw them, I thought ‘Is this the best use of taxpayers money?’ 

She said that the Home Office spent this amount of money to pursue a case that was contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, which the UK government had signed up to.

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