The UK Prime Minister and Home Secretary are accused of compromising the personal safety of attorneys through their abusive attacks on the profession and should apologize, more than 800 former judges and senior legal entities said in a letter sent to the Guardian.
Boris Johnson and Priti Patel are also accused in the letter of showing "hostility" towards lawyers, undermining the rule of law and effectively risking the lives of those working in the justice system.
Signatories include three former UK Supreme Court justices, five retired Appeals Court justices, three former Supreme Court justices, the solicitors of four Oxford University colleges, more than 80 QCs, 69 law professors from leading English universities and the directors of Liberty and Justice as well as hundreds of partners, attorneys, and attorneys at law firms.
The letter is the largest coordinated response to date to increasingly vehement rhetorical attacks by the two conservative politicians on the legal profession.
In August, the Home Office posted a video on Twitter accusing "activist lawyers" of thwarting the department's efforts to deport people without legal rights in the UK. The video was later withdrawn.
Earlier this month, at the Conservative Congress, Patel broadened its goals, claiming that among those defending the "indefensible" and "broken" immigration complaint system were "do-gooders, leftist lawyers, the Labor Party".
In his conference speech, Johnson went further and said he would prevent "the entire criminal justice system from being hampered by what the Home Secretary would no doubt – and rightly – call the left-wing human rights lawyers and other benefactors."
A man appeared in court last week on charges of a racist attack on an immigration law firm in London. Harrow-born Cavan Medlock, 28, faces six charges, including preparing an act of terrorism. He hasn't made a request yet.
The appeal of the signatures protesting the defamation of attorneys represents an extraordinary multitude of prominent legal experts who have come together for a common cause. Past judges include Lords Collins, Dyson and Walker, who recently left the Supreme Court, as well as former Appellate Judges Sir Richard Buxton, Sir Anthony Hooper, Sir David Keene, Sir Alan Moses and Sir Stephen Sedley.
The letter stated: “We are all deeply concerned about the recent attacks by the Home Secretary on lawyers trying to keep the government before the law.
“Such attacks not only endanger the personal safety of lawyers and others who work for the justice system, as has recently become apparent. They undermine the rule of law, which ministers and lawyers are required to uphold.
"We invite both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to behave honorably by apologizing for their hostility and refraining from such attacks in the future."
In support of the letter, former prosecutor Lord Macdonald QC said: “The Home Secretary may not understand the indecency of her language, but the Prime Minister should know better.
“Lawyers representing demonized people are always attacked by populist politicians, but it is humiliating for our country and its institutions that the government itself is now immersed in this disreputable game book.
“It is precisely this kind of ugly authoritarianism that the rule of law must combat. The entire legal profession takes pride in the lawyers who are so grossly and dangerously defamed. "
Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Dyson told the Guardian: "What is worrying is the inflammatory language used by the Home Secretary and endorsed by the Prime Minister. It was irresponsible and dangerous and totally unjustified to use such inflammatory language The language is almost the language of a demagogue.
“We all know what happens when people in high positions and in power use a language like this. They arouse emotions without justification. It is dangerous."
Dinah Rose QC, President of Magdalen College, Oxford University, said: “The people at the heart of government whose job it is to ensure that the legal system and the rule of law are respected have either chosen to remain silent or have their voices not heard .
“When lawyers abuse the system, they deserve to be criticized. The problem, however, is that the government is attacking any lawyer who uses the system to represent their clients. Attempts are made to stir up hatred against lawyers for simply doing their job. "
In a ruling last week affirming migrants' right of access to lawyers, Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon also stated: “It is unfortunate that a minority of lawyers have angrily given their professional weight and support has representations and abusive late [immigration] legal challenges. "
A government spokesman said: “The government rejects the underlying allegation in this letter and understands that any form of violence is unacceptable. Lawyers play an important role in upholding the law and ensuring people have access to justice. However, you are not immune to criticism. "