Priti Patel Plays the Blame Game: Speech leaves “Lefty Lawyers” fearing violence

October 16, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

In her Conservative Party conference speech, Home Secretary Priti Patel alleged that some immigration lawyers are facilitating illegal migration to the UK. The Law Society condemned the comments and stated they have put lawyers at risk.

What does this mean?

The government is looking to tighten immigration rules (to see our article on that, click here). The focus of Patel’s speech last week was to highlight the issues with the current system and explain how the Conservative Party aims to confront them. Patel alleged that “lefty lawyers” alongside “traffickers” and “do-gooders” are contributing to the current increase in migration to the UK. Stats show initial applications for asylum have a 53% success rate, but this rises to 73% when appeals are included. Patel argued some immigration lawyers are allowing illegal migration to occur and need to be stopped.  

Patel’s words sparked a fierce backlash from the legal profession. Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, took issue with her accusatory tone. He expressed concern over the safety of those within the profession, with lawyers likely to face violence and verbal attacks after the speech. Mark George QC said Patel’s speech was full of “hate and cruelty” and there are fears this rhetoric will increase the likelihood of physical attacks on lawyers. Furthermore, employees at Duncan Lewis Solicitors have already seen an increase in online abuse and The Guardian has reported that some immigration firms have been forced to increase their security.

What's the big picture effect?

The government has made multiple negative comments about immigration Lawyers in the past few months. In his conference speech, PM Boris Johnson echoed Patel and reprimanded “lefty human rights lawyers”. The Home Secretary also condemned “activist lawyers” in August and used the phrase again in a tweet on Friday 4 September. On Monday 7 September, an immigration lawyer was attacked with a knife at their place of work. The link between an increase in violence and the government’s persistent stance against immigration lawyers cannot be ignored. 

Employees at Duncan Lewis Solicitors have found these insults to play into the media’s narrative of immigration lawyers as politically left-wing. However, the firm heightened the value placed on the political independence of their work and expressed dismay that this had been ignored by the government. Duncan Lewis Solicitors emphasised that it is judges, not solicitors, who make decisions regarding immigration cases. It was also suggested that these comments undermine the rule of law, one of the most fundamental elements of our legal system. By putting pressure on lawyers to act a certain way, Duncan Lewis Solicitors felt that the government was interfering with the independence of the law.

Repeatedly accusing lawyers of promoting illegal migration is unlikely to do any good in solving the wider issues at stake. It is a lawyer’s professional duty to support all clients, something the government appears to have disregarded. Safety in a place of work is of utmost importance. This rhetoric is not only dangerous for lawyers, but also their vulnerable clients. As immigration continues to be demonised, asylum seekers may also be exposed to violence. With the lives of migrants and lawyers at stake, playing the blame game is unlikely to solve the government’s immigration dilemma.

Report written by Amber Allen

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