Home Office under fire for ‘point-scoring’ swipe at ‘activist’ immigration lawyers
Priti Patel has been accused of 'political point-scoring'
The Home Office has been accused of “political point-scoring” over a video claiming that “activist lawyers” are disrupting the return of asylum seekers.
Legal experts condemned the department over the social media post which hit out at EU rules and claimed they were being exploited by lawyers representing migrants.
A 21-second video posted on Wednesday night shows the Home Office’s work to remove migrants with no right to return in the UK, amid a row over the thousands of people who have made the dangerous Channel crossing from Calais to Dover in recent months.
The video 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.
“We should be proud that we live in a country where legal rights cannot be overridden without due process, and we should be proud that we have legal professionals who serve the rule of law.”
Mr Davis added: “Britain's standing internationally is underpinned by our reputation for democracy, fair play and the independence of our legal system.
“This independence hinges on lawyers and judges not being hindered or intimidated in carrying out their professional duties and not being identified with their clients or their clients' causes.”
Meanwhile, Amanda Pinto, chair of the Bar Council, warned that the “irresponsible, misleading communications” could be “extremely damaging to our society”.
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.
“The justice system provides a vital check and balance and should not be attacked for the sake of political point-scoring by the Government.
“We strongly condemn the use of divisive and deceptive language that undermines the rule of law and those working to uphold it.”
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 remove 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.”