Ministers take swipe again at lawyers with accusation of ‘playing politics’

Ministers have launched fresh attacks on the legal profession, this time accusing lawyers of undermining the justice system by “playing politics”, prompting renewed despair.

In a letter, seen by the Observer, the immigration minister, Chris Philp, condemns lawyers for last-minute challenges to the deportation of asylum seekers, in remarks that critics say betray a fundamental lack of understanding of how the courts system works.

In the letter, dated 10 November to Mhairi Black, the SNP MP, Philp writes that members of the legal profession “take advantage of their position and abuse the court process by playing politics”.

Amanda Pinto QC, the chair of the Bar Council, said the comments from an immigration minister were deeply disquieting.

“This latest criticism of lawyers yet again exposes the lack of understanding of the role lawyers play in our immigration and wider justice system, as well as a gap in the minister’s knowledge of the Home Office’s own operations when it comes to immigration,” she said.

Pinto added that lawyers were often responding to late or immediate deportation decisions by the Home Office, which made it impossible to avoid last-minute challenges.

“The government should not make general, unwarranted attacks on the reputation of the legal profession. To do so undermines the whole system,” she said.

Chris Philp

Chris Philp is only the latest minister to attack immigration lawyers in what may be a concerted strategy. Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock

Stephanie Harrison QC, who specialises in challenging the detention of deeply vulnerable migrants, said: “It is alarming that minsters continue to pursue this hostile attack on lawyers for fulfilling their professional obligations in defending their clients’ rights and when seeking to hold this government to account when acting unlawfully.

“Instead of doubling down on lawyers, surely the government should be doubling down on extremism and domestic terror – not fanning its flames in pursuit of its dangerous populist politics and policies.”

Philp is the latest minister to attack immigration lawyers in what appears to be a widening and concerted government strategy.

Last Wednesday, the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, alleged “activist lawyers” have eroded the legal profession’s reputation and claimed that some “vaunted their political views” on social media to “generate some work”.

His comments confirmed a hardening of the government’s position on the issue. Last month, Buckland told the Law Society of England and Wales that lawyers should not be targeted. “No one should be vilified for doing their job, whether we be public servants or professionals in private practice,” he said.

Boris Johnson and the home secretary, Priti Patel, have also recently attacked “lefty lawyers” for their work representing asylum seekers.

The letter from Philp adds: “The government has often seen its efforts to facilitate entirely legitimate and legal returns [of asylum seekers] frustrated by last-minute challenges that have been unfounded.”


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