Why the Government should condemn coarse language hurled at asylum seekers: Greg Wright
If you slam “activist lawyers” you are a condemning a legal structure, painstakingly erected over centuries, which stops us from losing our liberty and livelihood without a fair hearing.
The Government’s critics are right to brand the announcement of a Government “task force” targeting corrupt immigration lawyers as a red herring to distract from the asylum backlog.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said the Whitehall unit, for which there is no new funding, will aim to ensure that advocates who are found to be responsible for submitting fraudulent claims are “convicted, punished and disgraced”.
The public affairs director for the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, accused the Government of “lawyer-bashing” with the announcement of work that is not new.
David McNeill said the “task force” – bringing together civil servants, regulatory bodies and law enforcement – has been in existence for months, despite its “official launch” by the Home Office on Tuesday.
The Justice Secretary acknowledged that the unit has been in operation for some time, but told BBC Breakfast: “The Law Society is right that it’s a tiny minority of lawyers and the overwhelming majority of lawyers in this country do an extremely important job. However, there is a small minority that are doing terrible damage.”
The Law Society questioned “what, if anything, the Government is announcing today” and said the necessary powers are already in place to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) prohibits lawyers from deceiving courts, and any act of dishonesty or lack of integrity may result in them being struck off.
The Home Office said those ultimately found guilty of helping people remain in the country by fraudulent means could face life imprisonment, which is already the maximum sentence for assisting unlawful migration under the Immigration Act 1971.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr McNeill said the task force has been in existence for months adding “ it just looks like a bit of.. a distraction from really bad news for the Government on the number of asylum seekers now accommodated in hotels – 50,000”. The focus should surely be on dealing with asylum claims in a speedy manner to ensure genuine claimants gain the support they deserve. Over the last 13 years, five Conservative Prime Ministers have had ample opportunity to get a grip and resolve this issue.
Equally alarming is the Government’s refusal to condemn coarse, infantile language, especially when applied to vulnerable people.
The Justice Secretary defended Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson, who said asylum seekers complaining about the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge should “f*** off back to France”.
The party which produced Churchill, Thatcher and Heath has been reduced to endorsing the foulest, meanest of sentiments against people fleeing war and persecution. It’s something to ponder.
Greg Wright is deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post