The Home Office has been accused of an “assault on the rule of law” over its comments about “activist lawyers” who are representing migrants.
Home Secretary Priti Patel’s department has faced fierce criticism over a video posted to its Twitter account about its efforts to remove migrants from the UK.
The clip, which has been viewed more than a million times in less than 24 hours, says that current regulations are “allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns”.
The comments have been condemned by several legal figures and industry bodies, one of which described it as “divisive and deceptive language that undermines the rule of law”.
It comes as more migrants were seen arriving in Dover on Thursday morning, wearing blankets and life jackets.
Multiple boats are believed to have crossed the English Channel after many days of bad weather brought by Storm Francis.
Amanda Pinto QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “We strongly condemn the use of divisive and deceptive language that undermines the rule of law and those working to uphold it.”
She branded the comments “irresponsible, misleading” and “political point-scoring”.
Lawyers 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”, she added.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, also said “attacks” on the integrity of the legal profession undermine the rule of law and the description “activist lawyers” is “misleading and dangerous”.
He added: “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.”
Duncan Lewis, one of the main law firms to defend cases involving asylum seekers and those facing deportation, described the comments as “alarming”
Toufique Hossain, its director of public law, told the PA news agency: “Yet another attack on lawyers who are simply doing their best, under exceptionally difficult circumstances, to assist deeply vulnerable clients.
“This isn’t an attack on activism, it is an assault on the rule of law and people’s constitutional right to access justice.
“The Government can keep saying what they are saying, but we’ll continue to do what we are doing.”
The row follows news that 12 migrants were deported by the Home Office to Europe on a flight on Wednesday, with another expected to take place on Thursday.
The department’s video, published online on Wednesday evening, showed a moving graphic of planes leaving the UK with the caption: “We are working to remove migrants with no right to remain in the UK.
“But currently return regulations are rigid and open to abuse…
“Allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns.”
Barrister Richard Booth QC said on Twitter that it was “utterly disgraceful from the Home Office, painting lawyers as villains”.
The Liberal Democrats called for an end on “attacks” on people seeking asylum and their lawyers.
The party’s home affairs spokeswoman, Christine Jardine, said: “Given the Home Office’s appalling record, it is essential that asylum seekers have the chance to argue for their rights in court, with proper legal representation.”
A spokesman for the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland declined to comment on the row.
The latest skirmish between the Government and the justice system comes after Ms Patel reportedly told MPs that asylum laws were “broken” and vowed to bring in reforms which would “send the left into meltdown”.
The seeds of the Government’s battle with the courts were sown in the Brexit rows, when campaigner Gina Miller successfully challenged the Government over then prime minister Theresa May’s right to trigger Article 50 without a vote in Parliament.
The Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that Mr Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful fuelled Tory suspicions about judicial activism.
The clash with the judiciary intensified after a Court of Appeal decision earlier this year which the Government said prevented the deportation of 25 foreign offenders to Jamaica.
An independent review of judicial reviews – the legal challenge process – has also been launched.
More than 5,000 migrants have crossed to the UK in small boats so far in 2020, analysis by PA shows.
Thursday’s arrivals are believed to be the first since August 21, with the lashing winds of Storm Francis rendering the narrow sea route too dangerous.
Border Force’s cutter Seeker remains active in the English Channel, along with a French warship.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) sent a Shadow R1 aircraft to survey the Channel and monitor the waters for attempted crossings on Wednesday, despite the Home Office confirming none took place that day.
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy is considering deploying small patrol boats to the Channel to assist Border Force.