Legal professionals have responded with anger to a Home Office tweet accusing ‘activist lawyers’ of frustrating attempts to deport immigrants from the UK.
In a post on Wednesday evening, which by 9am on Thursday had been liked 2,000 times, the government suggested lawyers were abusing the current system to prevent people being returned to mainland Europe. The issue of immigration has come under the microscope in recent weeks with news reports of boats crossing the Channel carrying people trying to enter the UK.
The 21-second video begins by stating that the Home Office is working to remove migrants with no right to remain in the UK. It then states that current return regulations are ‘rigid and open to abuse allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns’.
It concludes by saying that soon the UK will no longer be bound by EU laws and can negotiate its own return arrangements. The video itself was captioned with a tweet saying that small boat crossings, which have been highlighted recently in the media, are ‘totally unnecessary’, and that a deportation flight had left yesterday with more planned in the coming weeks.
The post prompted a furious backlash from the legal sector. Law Society president Simon Davis said attacks like these undermine the rule of law and ignore that solicitors advise their client on their rights under law created by parliament.
‘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,’ said Davis.
‘It is vital in a democratic society that each case is judged on merit and it is the role of the justice system to determine the validity of claims. This function is and must remain independent of government, media and public opinion.’
Barrister Colin Yeo, author of Welcome to Britain: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System, tweeted: ‘Bad enough for ministers to talk about “activist lawyers” but next level politicisation for civil servants at the Home Office to put it on an official departmental channel.’
He later added: ‘The authoritarian anti-law agenda has moved on from “enemy of the people” judges to “activist lawyers”. We stood with the judges, for whatever good that did. Will they just let us swing?
‘I suspect quite a few share the government’s frustration with lawyers, frankly. They don’t like immigration law and they like immigration lawyers even less.’
The Secret Barrister has changed their Twitter name to 'The Secret Activist Lawyer (AKA Barrister)' and tweeted: 'The thing is that the government wouldn’t keep finding itself frustrated by enemy of the people judges and activist lawyers if it just stopped breaking the law.'
Steve Peers, professor of EU law at the University of Essex, said the claims in the video were lie, adding: ‘Home Office staff must know that courts decide on whether to suspend removals’.
The latest tweet has echoes of a speech at the Conservative party conference in 2016 when former prime minister Theresa May criticised ‘activist left wing human rights lawyers’ who ‘harangue and harass’ Britain’s armed forces.
Earlier this month, Number 10 said it wanted to look at the UK’s legal framework on the removal of illegal migrants and said it was ‘very difficult’ to remove failed asylum seekers once they arrive in Britain.
The prime minister’s spokesman was quoted as saying: 'We’re currently bound by the Dublin Regulations for returns and they are inflexible and rigid.
‘For example, there is a time limit placed on returns. 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.’
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