Home Office ditches controversial video claiming ‘activist lawyers’ are protecting asylum seekers after backlash
The Home Office video came amid a rise in the numbers of people making the dangerous Channel crossing from Calais to Dover. (PA)
The Home Office’s top civil servant has ordered the removal of a controversial video dismissing people providing legal representation for asylum seekers as “activist lawyers”.
Permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said the phrase — which appeared in a clip on the Home Office Twitter account — “should not have been used on an official government channel”.
Legal experts had condemned the department over the social media post, which hit out at EU rules and claimed they were being exploited by lawyers representing migrants.
The 21-second video posted on Wednesday night shows the Home Office’s work to remove migrants with no right to return in the UK.
It said current return regulations — presently set at an EU level — are “rigid and open to abuse allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns”.
But both the Law Society, the professional body for solicitors, and the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, hit out at the Whitehall department over its choice of language.
Law Society president Simon Davis warned the row risked undermining the UK’s reputation around the world.
"Attacks on the integrity of the legal profession undermine the rule of law,” he said in a statement.
“Solicitors advise their clients on their rights under the laws created by parliament. To describe lawyers who are upholding the law as ‘activist lawyers’ is misleading and dangerous.“
Meanwhile, Amanda Pinto, chair of the Bar Council, warned that the “irresponsible, misleading communications” could be “extremely damaging to our society”.
"I have made clear to the team this post should not be used again" - Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft
And she said: “Legal professionals who apply the law and follow Parliament’s express intention, are not ‘activists’.
“They are merely doing their jobs, enabling people to exercise their statutory rights and defend themselves against those in power. Without those lawyers, our system would crumble.“
In a reply to King’s College economics professor Jonathan Portes, who had contact the department to complain about the post, Mr Rycroft said: "I agree the phrase you quote should not have been used on an official government channel.”
And the Home Office’s permanent secretary added: "I have made clear to the team this post should not be used again from Home Office accounts or anywhere else by civil servants."
Professor Portes had argued that the video was inconsistent with the Government Communication Service’s own guidelines stating that official messages should “be objective and explanatory, not biased or polemical”.
They should also be “sensitive to tone and guard against perceived attacks on particular interests, organisations or individuals”.
The argument about “activist lawyers” echoes that used by Number 10 in recent weeks.
Boris Johnson has argued that the European Union's Dublin regulations — which are designed to identify which member states are responsible for considering a person's request for asylum — make it “very difficult” to failed asylum seekers once they arrive on British shores.
He has vowed to draw up a new system once the UK leaves the European Union, although no details have so far been published.
A Number 10 spokesperson said at the time: “It’s something which can be abused by those migrants and their lawyers to frustrate the returns of those who have no right to be here.”