The biggest legal aid firm in the country says its lawyers are receiving threatening messages in a lengthy statement hitting back at a tabloid newspaper's report that it has 'pocketed' millions in legal aid from the taxpayer.
On the day that home secretary Priti Patel denounced ‘lefty lawyers’ in a speech to the Conservative Party conference, the Mail on Sunday published an article about Duncan Lewis with the headline ‘Taxpayers foot £55m bill for lawyer blocking deportation flights of Channel migrants’.
Today, Duncan Lewis issued a lengthy statement, saying attacks on the firm and legal aid undermine the rule of law and an individual’s constitutional right to access to justice.
On Patel’s speech, the firm said any proposed overhaul that made asylum policy and procedure more efficient was long overdue. But ‘Priti Patel’s concluding remark during her speech on immigration that protecting the vulnerable “is what a firm but fair asylum system should look like” is completely at odds with the pursuance of an abhorrent narrative that criticises the “lefty lawyers” that are already doing this’.
The firm said it was disappointed to read the Mail on Sunday article. ‘The suggestion that we have "pocketed" £55m of publicly funded immigration cases in the last three years is misleading, fuels the anti-lawyer narrative and needs to be placed in the right context,’ it said.
‘The total fees we receive across any designated period will appear high simply because of the significant number of cases we deal with – thousands. It is no secret that we are the largest provider of publicly funded (legal aid) civil legal services in England and Wales, nor are we ashamed of it…
‘Whilst we do immigration work, this is not our largest department in relation to fees received. Most of our fund spend goes into representing vulnerable children in care proceedings. We further represent the homeless, the elderly (who may require the appropriate care packages having been tax payers for most of their lives), individuals with mental health issues, and many more. We represent clients who are victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Windrush generation whose status in the UK has still not been resolved by the Home Office. We represent those vulnerable clients (whether British citizens or foreign nationals) who have been unfairly treated by public authorities. We represent people who have had their civil liberties breached.’
Towards the end of its statement, Duncan Lewis revealed that its lawyers are receiving threats.
It said: ‘It would seem that the government along with some media outlets is creating a rhetoric which creates hatred not only of immigration and publicly funded lawyers, but of immigrants generally. The effect of this has very serious consequences to individuals’ lives and liberty. We are now seeing our lawyers experience abusive behaviour and receive abhorrent and threatening messages online daily for simply trying to do their job and be a voice for the most vulnerable: victims of torture, victims of trafficking and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This has to stop.’