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Angry lawyers have attacked Priti Patel’s Home Office after it issued “dangerous” criticism of immigration solicitors helping refugees who have crossed the English Channel.
The Home Office has released a video blaming “activist lawyers” for disrupting its work to “remove migrants with no right to remain in the UK” amid hundreds of small boat crossings from France to England this year.
The Law Society issued a firm rebuttal on Thursday, saying such attacks on the legal profession “undermine the rule of law”.
The self-styled “Secret Barrister”, a noted blogger and author, also accused the government of spreading Donald Trump-like “propaganda” about lawyers.
More than 5,000 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year, according to the PA news agency.
The row started on Wednesday night when the Home Office published a graphic-based video showing deportation planes alongside text reading: “We are working to remove migrants with no right to remain in the UK. But current return regulations are rigid and open to abuse allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns.”
Law Society president Simon Davis said of the video: “Solicitors advise their clients on their rights under the laws created by Parliament. To describe lawyers who are upholding the law as ‘activist lawyers’ is misleading and dangerous.”
Lawyers representing asylum seekers have previously argued many of the people who have made the dangerous crossing over the Channel are victims of torture, sexual assault and trafficking.
Referring to the end of the Brexit “transition period” on 31 December, it added: “Soon we will no longer be bound by EU laws and can negotiate our own return arrangements.”
He added: “In countries where lawyers are unable to do their job for fear of intimidation the rule of law is weakened. The consequences are a society that becomes less safe, less stable and less fair.”
The Secret Barrister also picked up on this theme, saying: “Civil servants are now being enlisted to spread Trump-like propaganda denigrating ‘activist lawyers’ who ensure the home secretary follows our democratically enacted laws.
“They lie about the law so they can get away with breaking it.”
And Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister, claimed: “This is a deliberate fight the government is picking. It thinks it can win easily because people don't like or trust lawyers.”
A spokesman for justice secretary Robert Buckland declined to comment on the row.
The Home Office video is not the first time the department has rounded on “activist lawyers” amid the high number of English Channel crossings.
The latest came as people wearing masks and life jackets were seen arriving in Dover aboard Border Force vessels on Thursday, before being taken ashore.
The suspected migrant arrivals were accompanied up the gangway to the processing area by officials in fluorescent clothing.
Once ashore, they will have been assessed for symptoms of coronavirus, as is protocol.
Later, two empty dinghies believed to have been used in the crossings were towed into the harbour.
Border Force’s cutter Seeker remains active in the English Channel, along with a French warship.
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