Two former Conservative law officers have slammed political rhetoric against “leftist lawyers” as damaging and wrong as the head of the Law Society has warned it could lead to physical attacks on immigration lawyers. .
Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general, and Edward Garnier, a Conservative peer and former solicitor general, said lawyers should not be attacked for doing their jobs, regardless of who they represent or their personal views.
Senior Conservative politicians from Rishi Sunak to the party’s deputy chair, Lee Anderson, have blamed “vain lawyers” for blocking government policies to stop people crossing the Channel in small boats. boats.
The controversy escalated this week after Conservative officials criticized Labor for its involvement with Jacqueline McKenzie, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, who represented an asylum seeker challenging their deportation to Rwanda. Since then she has received abuse and said on Friday that people threatened to drown her “like an asylum seeker” and leave dead bodies on her property.
McKenzie said he is still concerned about his safety. “I had a security company come and look at our house, and decided to cut down a tree because someone was hiding it,” he said. “I have had death threats from people who clearly know where I live, with all kinds of abuse including threats to drown me like an asylum seeker or leave their body in our way because there is a lot of room.
“My junior colleagues are really suffering, they are afraid of abuse and it is not right that we do our jobs, not as celebrities, and we have to face it.”
Grieve said that criticizing lawyers for representing clients who want to challenge the government on points of law is unacceptable.
“The idea of criticizing ‘vain lawyers’ – when on the face of it what they are doing is giving the government a hard time because they are raising legal issues that are legitimate – is completely wrong. Ministers should not be doing this ,” he said.
“It devalues the discourse and that’s what I see as pointless. The government has many failures and some of them I sympathize with. It doesn’t make sense to launch culture war attacks when they are completely wrong.
In McKenzie’s case, he said: “The fact that he advises the Labor party is of little importance. What is wrong with him? He is a lawyer. As long as lawyers act professionally in the discharge of their duties, their political views are irrelevant.”
Grieve, who took office as an independent MP after Boris Johnson withdrew the whip for defying him on Brexit, said the past few days had seen an “extraordinary week of populist promises in a full load of issues around immigration” and the attacks on lawyers “seems. to be a spin-off”.
Garnier, a barrister and former Conservative minister, said criticizing lawyers simply for fulfilling their duties to clients was “disgusting”.
“Attacking lawyers for doing their job is futile, counterproductive and unintelligent. It confuses a lawyer’s duty to represent the client and do their best for the client and what the very client,” he said. “I thought it was so obvious and basic that it didn’t need to be re-stated publicly but apparently it is. I understand the politics of it…
Both Grieve and Garnier stressed that lawyers who encourage people to make up stories of persecution to falsely claim refugee status, as the Daily Mail said, are a separate possible criminal matter, but it is fundamentally different from lawyers who only represent their clients.
The idea of lawyers thwarting government goals was first introduced by Johnson and Priti Patel in fall 2020.
Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society, said McKenzie was not the only immigration lawyer under threat in the current climate and warned that physical attack was a risk.
Shuja said there were six occasions where Johnson and Sunak targeted “legacy lawyers” and each time, the Law Society wrote to the government to say “this is dangerous language”.
He said it was important that action was taken against a small minority of lawyers who were helping people make fraudulent immigration claims but stressed that the wider demonization was “putting innocent lawyers in the danger and in the firing line”.
The language of Conservative politicians and some in the media also “undermines confidence in the legal profession and it undermines the justice system”, as well as distracting from the real problem of a large backlog of asylum cases, he said. .
“We have been contacted by other lawyers who are concerned for their own safety after what happened,” he said. “Jacqueline McKenzie was taken as one of the cases but she was not the only one. That’s a real, real concern.
“Unfortunately, these senior politicians made these comments. They should seriously reflect on the consequences of the words used by the Lord because for how long? We already have an attempted attack. .. I’m really worried that we will find ourselves in a position where there is another incident. We don’t want that to happen. Lawyers and attorneys should not be associated with the causes of the clients they act on . They shouldn’t be put at risk to do a job.”