The Welsh Government’s Law Officer has criticised as “shameful” part of the speech of the Home Secretary Priti Patel at the Conservative party conference.
Priti Patel used a speech at the Conservative party conference to criticise lawyers who defend migrants, linking them with traffickers who help asylum-seekers to cross borders.
But Counsel General Jeremy Miles, who is also Wales’ Brexit Minister, said: “This language is shameful.
“It’s completely unacceptable that lawyers feel unsafe to go to work and do the essential job of supporting their clients.”
He said that he would be making further comments on the matter at the Legal Wales conference tomorrow.
The Law Society has written to the Home Office asking them to change the language they are using, as it is putting them at risk of being attacked as well as undermining the legal system.
In her speech at the Conservative conference Priti Patel said that lawyers were “defending the indefensible”.
“No doubt those who are well-rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights,” she said.
“Those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour party – they are defending the indefensible.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Lawyers play an important role in upholding the law and ensuring people have access to justice, and we are absolutely clear that any form of violence against them is utterly unacceptable.
“We will continue to return those who have been through the legal system, had their application for asylum refused and have no legal right to remain in the UK, and look forward to working with the legal sector to reform our immigration and asylum system.”
The Law Society has written to the Home Office asking them to change the language they are using.
President Simon Davis said: “Slinging insults at lawyers risks leading not just to verbal abuse but to lawyers being physically attacked for doing their job … [and] it undermines a legal system which has evolved over many centuries, which helps ensure that power is not abused.”
Stephanie Harrison QC specialises in challenging the detention of vulnerable migrants, including people with mental health problems and trafficking and torture survivors.
She told the Guardian newspaper that the “deliberate” decision of the home secretary and the government to “turn on” lawyers was a tactic used by authoritarian states.
“Demonising lawyers who represent asylum-seekers in the current climate gives rise to a risk of lawyers themselves being targeted and attacked. Home secretaries have criticised lawyers before but this is a dangerous step further: associating lawyers with abuse of the system.
“It’s happening in a climate of extreme xenophobia. Targeting human rights lawyers is what you see in patterns of abusive behaviour by states around the world. When these states move to attacking those defending human rights that’s a really major development … undermining the legitimacy of the legal system and the role of lawyers.”
She said the case of Jo Cox should inform Home Office practice, adding: “Four years ago, an MP was murdered because she was closely associated with supporting refugees and migrants. Any home secretary who consciously decides to use such inflammatory language must recognise such risks.”