NI: Lawyers condemn Home Office ‘activist lawyers’ video
The Home Office has been roundly condemned by lawyers across the UK for attacking the integrity of the legal profession and undermining the rule of law after releasing a video accusing “activist lawyers” of delaying deportations.
The video, which was posted on the Home Office’s Twitter page but later removed, claimed that the UK’s current asylum system is “open to abuse … allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns”.
Belfast solicitor Maria McCloskey, who chairs the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s human rights and equality group, told Irish Legal News that the use of the term “activist lawyers” was “an attack not just on us and the work we do, but on the very concept of the rule of law”.
She said: “Access to justice is slowly but surely being eroded. Yet, we continue to work within the legal framework available to us in order to hold the government to account.
“We do this on the basis of laws that have been enacted by Parliament, as well as international laws by which the UK government is bound.
“We will continue to act in the best interests of our, often very vulnerable, clients and do everything we can as lawyers in trying to ensure that they are treated justly and fairly under the law.”
A spokesperson for The Bar of Northern Ireland told ILN that the rule of law “is one of the fundamental foundations of any democratic society”.
“It is the principle that the law applies to all and that no-one, including the government, is above the law. A strong, independent and vibrant legal profession has always been vital to ensuring that the rule of law is upheld in Northern Ireland,” they said.
“The independence of our barristers is of paramount importance and a vital virtue. As independent professionals, their entire purpose is to selflessly serve, fearlessly and rigorously, their clients’ interests and to achieve the best possible result, whilst fulfilling their duty to the court and being subject to robust regulation.
“It is in the public interest to maintain and develop the independent Bar. Only an independent group of specialist advocates can guarantee that anyone, no matter how unpopular they or their cause may be, receives the highest standard of expert and impartial representation.”
The video has also been condemned by the Law Society and Bar Council in England and Wales, as well as the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, as our sister publication Scottish Legal News reports.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “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.
“We should be proud that we live in a country where legal rights cannot be overridden without due process, and we should be proud that we have legal professionals who serve the rule of law.
“It is vital in a democratic society that each case is judged on merit and it is the role of the justice system to determine the validity of claims. This function is and must remain independent of government, media and public opinion.”
He added: “Britain’s standing internationally is underpinned by our reputation for democracy, fair play and the independence of our legal system.
“This independence hinges on lawyers and judges not being hindered or intimidated in carrying out their professional duties and not being identified with their clients or their clients’ causes.”
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales, said: “Irresponsible, misleading communications from the Government, around the job that lawyers do in the public interest, are extremely damaging to our society.
“Legal professionals who apply the law and follow Parliament’s express intention, are not ‘activists’. They are merely doing their jobs, enabling people to exercise their statutory rights and defend themselves against those in power. Without those lawyers, our system would crumble.
“The justice system provides a vital check and balance and should not be attacked for the sake of political point-scoring by the government.
“We strongly condemn the use of divisive and deceptive language that undermines the rule of law and those working to uphold it.”