Pressure is growing on the government to publicly apologise for comments denouncing ‘activist’ and ‘lefty’ lawyers after a man allegedly threatened to kill an immigration solicitor last month.
In a front-page story yesterday, the Observer reported that on 7 September, a man with a large knife entered a London law firm and launched a ‘violent, racist attack’ that injured a staff member before the assailant was overwhelmed.
The Observer states that a 28-year-old man has been charged with possession of, and making threats with a bladed article in a public place; racially aggravated public disorder; assault; and making threats to kill in connection with the incident.
The Law Society has already warned that lawyers are at risk of physical attack if politicians continue to ‘sling insults’ at them.
On 3 September, home secretary Priti Patel blamed ‘activist lawyers’ for frustrating attempts to deport people who came to the UK via illegal routes. At the Conservative Party Conference last Sunday, she described lawyers who help asylum seekers as ‘lefty lawyers’. Prime minister Boris Johnson then publicly accused ‘lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders’ of hampering the criminal justice system in his keynote conference speech.
Law Society president Simon Davis said: 'We are extremely concerned about the safety of solicitors and barristers in the current climate, with firms that deal in emotive issues such as immigration being targeted. The role of solicitors is to apply and uphold the laws set down by parliament and they have a right to do so on behalf of their clients without intimidation.
'We are monitoring the situation closely and urge both government and media to be mindful of the rhetoric they employ. This is no exaggeration - inflammatory language, particularly from figures in authority, can have serious consequences. Nobody should be put at risk for doing their job, least of all when that job entails upholding the rule of law.'
The Bar Council called for Patel and Johnson to retract their ‘ill-judged’ comments.
Amanda Pinto QC, Bar Council chair, said: ‘There should never be a situation when a British prime minister, home secretary and other government ministers need to be called upon to stop deliberately inflammatory language towards a profession simply doing its job in the public interest. Shockingly, we've arrived at that point.
'As this same government has proclaimed, lawyers are essential workers and play a critical role in making sure the nation's justice system continues to operate. Even if it was never the intention of this government to incite violence against members of the legal profession, the fact the personal safety of lawyers is now at risk demands an immediate retraction of the ill-judged comments made in recent weeks by the prime minister and the home secretary, as well as a public apology.’