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Trio of ex-Supreme Court justices join 800 legal figures in call for Johnson and Patel to end lawyer ‘hostility’

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Open letter follows series of public attacks on profession

An open letter calling on the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to apologise for their “display of hostility” towards the legal profession has garnered over 800 signatures, including those of three former justices of the UK Supreme Court.

“We are all deeply concerned at recent attacks, made by the Home Secretary and echoed by the Prime Minister, on lawyers seeking to hold the government to the law”, the group write in an open letter published over the weekend.

The signatories include three former justices of the Supreme Court (Lord Collins, Lord Dyson and Lord Walker); 84 QCs; 76 partners and law firm directors; 74 law professors; 294 junior barristers; 162 solicitors; 90 academics; and eight Legal NGO directors.

The letter follows a series of attacks by the the government on the legal profession.

In August, the Home Office tweeted a short video in which it accused “activist lawyers” of delaying and disrupting the return of migrants to their home countries. The post was eventually deleted after it was condemned by the department’s top civil servant.

Meanwhile, Priti Patel attacked “the do-gooders” and “lefty lawyers” who are “defending the broken system”, in a divisive speech during the Conservatives’ virtual party conference earlier this month.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

Boris Johnson also slammed the legal profession in his own keynote address, telling those watching that the party must stop “the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the Home Secretary would doubtless and rightly call the lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders.”

The letter claims such attacks “endanger not only the personal safety of lawyers and others working for the justice system, as has recently been vividly seen; they undermine the rule of law which ministers and lawyers alike are duty bound to uphold.”

It goes on to urge Patel and Johnson to “behave honourably by apologising for their display of hostility, and to refrain from such attacks in the future”.

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16 Comments

Tony Dowson

Typical lawyers making hyperbolic claims whenever they are criticised. The Rule of Law is threatened! Oh no!

We know that there are many lawyers out there more concerned with their political activism than with upholding the law. Whenever they are rightly criticised, they rush into a defensive position about their unique constitutional role in saying truth to power – blah blah, blah.

(24)(39)

Matron

Dear me, someone missed his dose of gripe water today!

(1)(1)

Barry GG

Patel seems like a nasty piece of work, and her comments were poorly phrased.

But the pompous indignation of hundreds of barristers claiming to be social justice heroes is becoming boring.

(25)(12)

Grumpy on a Monday

The irony in this is that the Law Society is currently led by a former labour parliamentary candidate who said this in an interview with the Law Gazette on 19 February 2018:

“‘If I hadn’t become a lawyer, I would have been a politician,’ he says. ‘I was a member of the Young Communist League [the youth wing of the Communist party of Great Britain] and then joined the Labour party. My practice has allowed me to pursue politics through the courts.’”

Lawyers are obviously entitled to political views, but waging political campaigns through the courts is a different thing. Everyone who works in immigration knows (as a former Lord Chief Justice – notably not one of the signatories to this missive – pointed out) some lawyers who practice in this field issue applications that are hopeless but are timed to prevent what would otherwise be legitimate deportations. These waste the courts’ time, public funds and do nothing for the maintenance of the rule of law.

Preservation of the rule of law sometimes requires lawyers to restrain themselves, rather than acting (per the Law Society president) as communists “pursu[ing] politics through the courts”.

(30)(3)

Just Anonymous

In my opinion, the Government should be free to criticise the legal profession, just as we are free to criticise the Government.

If that criticism is ignorant, ill-informed or otherwise wrong, then the answer is to demonstrate, calmly, why it is wrong, with evidence and rational argument.

In my opinion, responding in this way just plays into the Government’s hands: it reinforces the impression (whether true or not) that the legal profession is full of idealogues who seek to criticise the Government, but who can’t handle criticism in return.

(21)(6)

Anon

The Government should be free to call out lawyers who undermine its policy. However, there is a risk that this in itself undermines the credibility of the legal profession, especially if it triggers tit-for-tat comments. A race to the bottom is no way to go.

My point: I wonder whether the Government made informal enquiries with the Law Society/Bar Council, who could have delivered this message themselves in a more self-regulatory way. If they did, and got no response (or were told to get lost), then don’t blame them for delivering the message themselves publicly.

(7)(2)

Much more anon

The government should not be free to call out lawyers for undermining policy. The role of lawyers is to ensure that their clients receive their legal rights, not to promote government policy. The day that lawyers are forced to support government policy rather than promote the rule of law is the day that democracy is over for all of us.

Here are 2 examples where government policy was unlawful, with lawyers putting their client’s case:
https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-judgment.pdf
https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/1338.html

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Exactly the sort of judicial interference with the sound administration of the nation that Boris and Patel were elected to stamp out.

(0)(3)

Lawyer

Headline: lawyers criticise people who are nasty to them.

(5)(4)

Anonymous

I’d rather the judges and profession took harsher positions on those that undertake the sort of tactics to frustrate immigration enforcement that formed the basis for these legitimate criticisms.

(8)(3)

Anonymous

They have. Look up the Hamid jurisdiction. Its been a whole significant thing in immigration law for several years.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Not enough. And legal aid needs to be stopped for immigration work.

(1)(6)

michael gaughan

looking at the list of signatories, the turkeys are unsurprisingly, still very much against Christmas and would very much favour the vegan option.

(7)(2)

Benny Goodman

Notwithstanding the self-image of certain lawyers who would happily describe themselves as ‘activist’, the scope of what lawyers in these situations actually can and cannot do is defined by the law, procedure and their professional obligations. There are a well-developed set of principles to control abuse of judicial review for the purposes of frustrating immigration enforcement or otherwise; look e.g. at p.79 of the Administrative Court Guide. The substance of the Govt’s position is that it is acceptable to demonise those who represent a particular type of client in a particular type of case for doing their job, because the Govt does not want those kinds of claims brought.

(4)(10)

Jeremy BURNETT RAE, M.A, Barrister

Headline 1: Losing Litigant Criticises Lawyers!

Headline 2: Lawyers Criticise Complainant!

Headline 3: Adversaries Complain in Parliament and Internet!

Headline 4: Lefties call for Revolution!

Headline 5: Righties call for the Rule of Law!

Headline 6: Everyone’s daughters get new dresses.

(0)(0)

Nationalism

Government:
needs a “collective enemy” to blame for everything, divert public attention and use to gain votes:
creates political scapegoat outside voter base:
riles up public against scapegoat through media:
continually publicises doing “a good job” for public by openly removing all human rights for scapegoat:
gains voters and power through being tough on scapegoat (and therefore “good for public”) and blames scapegoat for all failings:
openly condemns anyone who defends scapegoat/gets in their way. blames them for all failings and links them to opposition party

(1)(0)

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