International Bar Association condemns Johnson and Patel for ‘playing politics’ with lawyers’ work



Priti Patel
Priti Patel

The International Bar Association (IBA) and International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) have condemned “hostile comments” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel regarding the work of lawyers.

In a party conference speech last month, Mr Johnson said his government is “stopping the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the Home Secretary would doubtless – and rightly – call the lefty human rights lawyers, and other do-gooders”.

His remarks followed controversial comments in September by Ms Patel, who blamed “activist lawyers” for slowing deportations. A month prior, the Home Office had published and withdrawn a video containing the same phrase.

A law firm in London has blamed Ms Patel’s disparaging remarks for a knife attack on one of its immigration solicitors last month.

Horacio Bernadres Neto, president of the IBA, said: “This year marks the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (UN Basic Principles) and the IBA Standards for Independence of the Legal Profession.

“We remind the United Kingdom of the UN Basic Principles’ obligation for governments, to ‘ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference’. The IBA Standards also uphold that ‘no lawyer shall suffer or be threatened with penal, civil, administrative, economic or other sanctions, or harassment by reason of his or her having legitimately advised or represented any client or client’s cause’.

“We regret to see the UK, a nation once heralded for its commitment to the rule of law, regressing this commitment and chastising lawyers for simply carrying out their professional duties.”

IBA executive director Mark Ellis added: “The comments by senior UK government ministers exploit broader societal divisions by placing a politically charged label on lawyers. It is a thinly veiled attempt to discredit the important work done by the legal profession to protect human rights, including those of asylum seekers.

“The work of the legal profession to apply UK law and defend every citizen of the UK, should be praised rather than vilified. The UK’s strong global position is owing to its historic reputation for upholding the rule of law. In order to maintain this reputation, this rhetoric villainising the legal profession must end.”

IBAHRI director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said: “The shameless attacks on lawyers is part of wider strategy to undermine the rule of law. The effects of the significant cuts to legal aid introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2012 have only intensified during the pandemic.

“There is a backlog of over 45,500 Crown Court cases that will take over four years to clear out, starting from long before the Covid-19 crisis. Further, in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto they promised to reassess judicial review post-Brexit, which would greatly reduce the checks and balances placed on the government. These cuts are why the justice system is ‘hamstrung’. Not the work of ‘lefty human rights lawyers’, as Priti Patel claims.”