Suella Braverman has defended Priti Patel’s attack on “activist lawyers” after reports they have faced physical and verbal attacks following criticism from the government.
The attorney general was questioned by MPs about a Home Office video which accused them of epresenting migrants of trying to disrupt the asylum system.
Labour’s Andy Slaughter also told the Commons: “At the Conservative Party conference, the prime minister said he would prevent the ‘whole criminal justice system being hamstrung by what the home secretary (Priti Patel) would doubtless – and rightly – call the lefty human rights lawyers, and other do-gooders’.
“On October 9 the chair of the Bar wrote to the prime minister, copied in the Attorney General, asking the prime minister if he would withdraw those comments.
“Would she at least see that the chair of the Bar gets a reply to that letter sent a month ago, because it’s leading to attacks – not just verbal but often physical – on lawyers.”
Attorney general Suella Braverman, in reply, to Labour’s Andy Slaughter said: “Lawyers play a vital role in our justice system and in upholding our democratic society, however, I do find the words of the Lord Chief Justice very useful.
“He recently in the Court of Appeal took the opportunity to make the general point, and I quote, ‘that it is a matter of regret that a minority of lawyers have lent their professional weight and support to vexatious representations and abusive late legal challenges’.”
Braverman said she found his words “prescient and relevant” to the debate, adding: “As a friend and an ally of the profession, of course the vast majority of our profession uphold the highest standards but we can’t deny there is a minority who don’t.”
Shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves said lawyers “have the right to work without fear or intimidation”.
She told MPs: “Earlier in the pandemic lawyers were rightly identified by this government as key workers, yet the language used by the Home Secretary and the prime minister wasn’t only wrong, it was reckless, and does a huge disservice to an entire profession.
“I’m certainly proud of the legal profession, the Attorney General says she is too, so will she today, in this chamber condemn referring to criminal defence lawyers and immigration lawyers as activists and do-gooders?”
Braverman replied: “Any violence, I must make clear, is utterly deplorable, against any lawyer or anyone going about their work for any matter.
“But we have to be clear that in this debate more broadly there are lawyers who have gone on the record themselves to make it very clear that they are pursuing politics through the courts.
“There are judges in their decisions who have felt compelled to remind counsel that judicial review is not and should not be regarded as politics by another means. Everyone in the profession needs to take heed of those observations in making their professional decisions.”