Every now and again lawyers and the judiciary find themselves in the crosshairs of ministers and their allies in the press. The Home Secretary Pritti Patel equated Lawyers with people smugglers. She said
“Those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party – are defending the indefensible.”
Call me oversensitive but I rather resented that.
Just think about that for a moment. If it is a broken system who has presided over it during the last decade?
Is there something essentially wrong in the Home Secretary’s mind about people who are doing good? Does the Home Secretary wish to represent the opposite of doing good. Some might think so.
As for being ‘lefty lawyers’ that is a substantial assumption made I suspect without regard to the variation and diversity of views within the legal profession. Not all lawyers are left wing by any means, even those doing immigration work. There are many Conservative lawyers known to me personally. Some are less inclined to support the present administration because they feel the party no longer represents Conservative values any more but they can speak for themselves.
No one I know in the legal profession would ever ‘defend a broken system’. What they do is represent people trapped in a broken system for which you are entirely responsible. To refer to lawyers in the same breath as “the traffickers“ is a deeply insulting smear by association. I am not sure what kind of Home Secretary it is fails to grasp the distinction between lawyers and the clients they represent. Except of course perhaps a Home Secretary who to please her “audience” would choose to malign a whole profession to that end.
But of course the Home Secretary is not alone because sure enough up pops the usual suspects on the back benches like John Redwood MP who said
“Time for government to send an even clearer law to the courts to tackle people smuggling. The courts keep finding against the Home Secretary as she takes on the illegal migration business.”
Mr Redwood fails to cite a single example of decisions that he feels the court have got wrong. It does not occur to him it seems that the Home Office may have been acting unlawfully might account for the courts “finding against her”.
There have been many respected people and institutions who have already condemned the proposals of the Home Secretary as unlawful and putting the clock back 50 years on her proposed treatment of asylum seekers.
As Kate Allen, Amnesty UK’s director, said: “It’s clear that either the home secretary does not understand her own asylum system or she is simply determined to shirk even more responsibility for providing protection to people”.
I am not sure but perhaps they mean provisions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(1)
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
And as the United Nations objective 21 provides “States should put in place mechanisms and allocate resources to ensure that the IHRL protection needs of all migrants can be assessed individually and with due process”.
So lawyers are involved in ensuring the government obeys international law. Many asylum seekers do not obtain legal advice until 24 hours before a proposed deportation. It is not lawyers fault that the government has not provided more adequate earlier access or streamlined the system to be more efficient and humane. Immigration barrister Alasdair Mackenzie of Doughty Street Chambers said “ I wouldn’t accept that it is broken in the way Pritti Patel suggests. A majority of people who apply for asylum get it, which suggests that it is not being abused.The reason that endless claims happen is because the Home Office don’t get it right first time.” So perhaps it is in fact not Lawyers at fault at all! Delay is the enemy of economic efficiency for lawyers and tragic for their clients in terms of insecurity.
But this is really not the point of this article because I detect a theme running through the heart of these issues that have cause such controversy in the last year or so. That theme I regret to say is a contempt for the rule of law, the judiciary and those lawyers who work within our legal system.
We should not be surprised perhaps because the government has treated Parliament at times with the same disrespect. Perhaps the most egregious example of that being the governments illegal attempts to prorogue Parliament to prevent scrutiny of elected representatives.
The government acted unlawfully but if you listened to the coordinated attacks upon the Supreme Court by the government and its allies you would have thought it was the court that was acting illegally.
I wrote :
“The Supreme Court adjudicated because the Government acted quite beyond the limits of parliamentary convention and the court therefore has the power to intervene. This is only ‘new’ in the sense that the Government exceptionally went beyond the conventional bounds and for unlawful reasons. It was the misconduct that was new, not the Courts power to intervene.”
See here for the full article.
It was at that time that I realised this was a different type of government. A government prepared to flout Parliamentary convention and the law of the land for political ends.
Then of course we have the present spectre of a government minister in Parliament reading from a prepared transcript that Her Majesty’s government was legislating to break international law albeit in a ‘limited and specific way’. I do not think many of us ever contemplated a British government announcing to the world in effect that our word was worth nothing even if set out in international treaties.
The ‘internal Market Bill’ undermines the foundations of the Withdrawal Agreement & domestic and international law as a whole.
It even makes sure in its provisions that there can be no challenge to this blatant illegality via means of Judicial Review. No challenge. That is deeply worrying. Legislation that removes judicial scrutiny is exceptionally dangerous. This could lead down a very dark path. I commend this article of David Allen Green who always writes well on these matters https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/an-enabling-act-could-happen-here-parliament-law-constitution ‘An enabling Act could happen here.’ and who set out the dangers: ‘The government could obtain absolute power and we would be impotent to prevent it’ referencing the ‘enabling act’ in Germany in 1933.
I looked into this and found that on March 24, 1933, Hitler introduced, and the Reichstag passed, the Law for the Solution of the Emergency of People and Reich or the “enabling act” which constituted the major pillar of Nazi rule. See:- ‘They shoot the Lawyers don’t they’. Law in the Third Reich. By Mathew Lippman 1993,
It is worth noting the uncanny comparison with our politics today. Read the next paragraph carefully. Hold in mind our UK Government by decree or as we call them ‘statutory instruments and regulations. Hold in mind the announced proposed breach of law and International treaties.
Article One abrogated the separation of powers and authorised the executive to promulgate decrees without parliamentary consultation.’
Article Two permitted the government to “deviate” from the requirements of the constitution.’
Article Four authorised the executive to enter into treaties without legislative approval.
So when a minister in the UK Parliament announces the breach of law and treaties this is not the first time this has been done in history. I find that chilling.
Once again we have familiar attacks upon the courts and lawyers from the Home Secretary. We seem to be a favourite target when it is needed to divert attention from other matters. Covid perhaps? We seem to be scapegoated for the governments own failings for example we have to attend court even if unwell it was suggested, we have to work additional hours in criminal courts because of the government failure to provide court sitting times and buildings prior to Covid and now we are responsible for the failings of asylum law and mentioned in the same breath alongside trafficking criminals.
Let me quote a government source about a politician.
“He detested lawyers as pen-pushers who filled whole volumes with tangled commands and prohibitions and always had their noses buried in ridiculous tomes. He once confided to a gathering of confidants that going to law school must turn every rational person into ‘a complete idiot,’ and that for his part he would ‘do everything he could. . . to make people despise a legal education.”
That was Adolf Hitler. But are these words from the Home Secretary very far away from that ?
‘Those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party – are defending the indefensible.”
The level of abuse is similar isn’t it? Amounting to denigration of Lawyers. In fact worse by associating lawyers with ‘traffickers’ in ‘defending the indefensible’.
What we certainly do not defend is a government announcing it is going to break the law. Hitler would have approved because he said:
“Furthermore, I expect the German legal profession to understand that the nation is not here for them but that they are here for the nation, that is, the world which includes Germany must not decline in order that formal law may live, but Germany must live irrespective of the contradictions of formal justice.”
Much to the dismay of the legal profession the failure of some government law officers to resign in protest at the proposed illegality is symbolic of the moral bankruptcy at the heart of this government.
I am reminded in the same article of what the Nuremberg Court said of a judge complicit in the Nazi corrupt debased and murderous Judicial system.
“ The Tribunal fully recognised that Schlegelberger (The judge) was a “tragic character” who loved the “life of an intellect, [and] the work of the scholar. “I Despite the fact that he likely “loathed the evil did,” the fact remains that Schlegelberger “sold that intellect and that scholarship to Hitler for a mess of political pottage and for the vain hope of personal security.”
‘These legal officers and officials thus owe their ultimate fealty to internationally proclaimed principles of justice rather than to the ephemeral dictates of domestic law.’
The same applies now to the UK.
Finally In an advert triumphing Pritti Patel’s assault upon vulnerable asylum seekers and their human trafficking associating lawyers she said:
“As Conservatives we do not measure the depth of our compassion in 280 characters on Twitter but in the actions we take and the choices we make”
To which I replied in this way.
Neither do we lawyers whom you relentlessly attack.
We measure our compassion in the work we do in your broken system.
We measure our compassion by continuing to work in underpaid legal aid firms and practices.
We measure it in fighting your cruel & oppressive laws & regulations.
Enjoy your brief moment of power when you misuse your office as ‘bully pulpit’ to abuse others. It won’t last. But the damage you do might. Your compassion is hard to detect in the words you use & in polices you espouse. Lawyers do their duty. You do your worst.
And now the Prime Minister has weighed in criticising lefty human rights lawyers’ by publicly accusing them of hampering the criminal justice process. The Law Society said his ‘divisive language’ puts lawyers and their clients at risk. https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/johnson-opens-new-front-in-war-on-lefty-lawyers/5105891.article
All my career I and other lawyers have served Justice by ensuring people are properly represented and that only the guilty are convicted whilst the innocent go free.
The PM’s remarks increase the danger we are placed in by denigrating our role. There are those who will take those comments as a signal that we are fair game. They also make our role difficult to sustain as they reduce our reputation for integrity in dealing with others
I am proud to be a lawyer and I am proud of the lawyers who navigate the complex and harsh immigration laws. Although you and your supporters like Mr Redwood would like the courts, tribunal’s and lawyers all to be servants of the will of number 10 Downing Street, I am confident that unlike Germany in the 1930s Lawyers will serve the law and their clients first and foremost and we will not be intimidated by your abuse and intimidation.
Robin Murray is a solicitor who founded Robin Murray and co on the 1st June 1988, which grew into a multi branch firm now known as the ‘Tuckers Kent Branch’ which is a combination of the might of firms of Robin Murray & Co and Kent Defence who merged as part of the nation-wide leading criminal defence firm Tuckers Solicitors.
Robin is a former winner of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the year award, plus a Kent Law Society Outstanding Achievement Award, and was nominated for Law Society Gazette Legal personality of the Year award.