Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have been urged to end their “hostility” towards lawyers who defend asylum seekers in a letter signed by more than 800 legal professionals.
The letter, published in the Guardian by former and current lawyers, barristers, and UK justices of the Supreme Court, have called on the government to apologise for attacking the legal profession.
The signatories said they were “deeply concerned” at how Johnson and Patel’s behaviour was “endangering” lawyers’ safety and undermined the rule of law.
They called on both senior figures to act “honourably” and apologise.
No 10 has hit back saying lawyers were “not immune from criticism”.
The letter follows several attempts by No 10 to undermine the work of legal professionals who choose defend migrants who arrive in the UK without a visa from deportation.
In August, the Home Office was forced to remove a video on its official Twitter account accusing those lawyers of being “activists”.
During the Conservative Party conference in October, the home secretary referred to “do-gooders” and “lefty lawyers” in a speech about the UK’s asylum system.
She went on to accuse those who opposed her plans to overhaul the system of “defending the indefensible”.
Johnson went a step further and suggested he would stop the criminal justice system being “hamstrung” by “lefty human rights lawyers”.
Among those to sign the letter include three former justices of the UK Supreme Court – Lords Lawrence Collins, John Dyson and Robert Walker – as well as retired appeal court judges, former high court judges and a slew of QC and law professors.
The letter read: “We are all deeply concerned at recent attacks, made by the home secretary and echoed by the prime minister, on lawyers seeking to hold the government to the law.
“Such attacks endanger not only the personal safety of lawyers and others working for the justice system, as has recently been vividly seen; they undermine the rule of law, which ministers and lawyers alike are duty-bound to uphold.
“We invite both the home secretary and the Prime minister to behave honourably by apologising for their display of hostility, and to refrain from such attacks in the future.”
A spokesperson for No 10 said the government is clear that any form of violence towards lawyers is unacceptable.