On 21 February 2023 the Law Society Gazette reported that immigration minister Robert Jenrick stated, “We are monitoring the activities […] of a small number of legal practitioners, but it is not appropriate for me to discuss that here.”
This was in response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael regarding allegations of abuse and exploitation of the law by solicitors, advocates and barristers.
This statement came during a Commons debate further to a protest outside a hostel in Knowsley against asylum seekers being sheltered there. That protest was inevitably triggered by previous comments by the current Home Secretary, Suella Braverman.
The statement from Jenrick raises concerns about the monitoring of legal practitioners, the potential impact on human rights, the democratic state and the ability for lawyers to act in the best interest of their clients. Whilst the current Government appear not to enjoy the idea of a legal process that goes against its legislative agenda, in any democratic society, the rule of law and the independence of the legal profession are critical components. It is designed to ensure not only the protection of individual rights and freedoms, but also to check the excesses of the Executive.
It is important to note that lawyers play a vital role in upholding human rights, ensuring that individuals have access to justice, but we also act in Court to scrutinise the law. Access to justice should be irrespective of class, race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, ability or political opinion. Any attempt by the Government to interfere in the work of lawyers and practitioners, and that seeks to monitor their work or activities is of great concern to us at PILC.
Whilst it is unclear from Jenrick’s statement what particular actions the Government is proposing to monitor or measure – these threats should not be made or tolerated. His statement could trigger further attacks on lawyers. This is not a fallacy. In 2020, a London law firm accused former Home Secretary Priti Patel of inspiring an attack on its staff after she made comments berating “activist lawyers”.
It is important for Governments to respect and protect the rule of law and the rights of all individuals, including lawyers.
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