Home Office abandons video in row over ‘activist lawyers’ who represent migrants

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The Home Office has been forced to abandon using a video which accuses “activist lawyers” representing migrants of trying to disrupt the asylum system after a barrage of complaints.

A row erupted over the footage on Thursday, with legal bodies condemning the message while a university professor lodged a complaint with the department’s top civil servant, Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft.

It comes as more migrants made it to the UK after crossing the Channel in small boats.

“But currently return regulations are rigid and open to abuse…

“Allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns.”

Lawyers branded it an “assault on the rule of law” using “divisive and deceptive language”.

Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at King’s College London, said he complained to Mr Rycroft about the video, and in a post on Twitter quoted his response as: “I agree the phrase you quote should not have been used on an official government channel.

“I have made clear to the team this post should not be used again from Home Office accounts or anywhere else by civil servants.”

The Home Office press office confirmed the response was accurate and that it would no longer be using the video or the phrases included in the footage.

But it would not be removing the original post, a spokeswoman added.

The department refused to comment further or say which team compiled the video and who signed it off for publication.

Mr Portes later added that it was a “very clear breach” of Government communications standards and urged department press offices to “take note” and that the “unacceptable behaviour is not repeated”.

The clip, viewed more than a million times in less than 24 hours, prompted fierce criticism of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s department, with a string of legal and political figures wading into the debate.

But the spokesman for Justice Secretary Robert Buckland declined to comment and Ms Patel’s spokesman was not available to discuss the matter.

Prior to the video being posted, Home Office officials released various statements over the last two months repeatedly claiming “activist lawyers” were frustrating efforts to send migrants back to France with “vexatious claims”, although they have so far been unable to provide examples.

Amanda Pinto QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said lawyers were “merely doing their jobs”, adding: “We strongly condemn the use of divisive and deceptive language that undermines the rule of law and those working to uphold it.”

Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said “attacks” on the integrity of the legal profession undermine the rule of law and the description “activist lawyers” is “misleading and dangerous”.

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 it was “yet another attack on lawyers” who were representing “deeply vulnerable clients”, adding: “This isn’t an attack on activism, it is an assault on the rule of law and people’s constitutional right to access justice.”

Barrister Richard Booth QC branded the move “utterly disgraceful”.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union which represents civil servants, said: “To use a graphic similar to Dad’s Army and equating that with migrants fleeing war and famine is politically and morally repugnant.”

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
Two people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

But another flight scheduled for Thursday had to be halted due to a high volume of last-minute legal challenges, the Home Office said.

More than 5,000 migrants have crossed to the UK in small boats so far in 2020, analysis by PA shows.

At least 26 migrants in three boats made it to the UK across the Channel aboard small boats on Thursday, according to the Home Office.

The men, who were picked up by Border Force, said they were from Sudan.

These are believed to be the first arrivals since August 21, with the lashing winds of Storm Francis rendering the narrow sea route too dangerous.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has continued to send aircraft to survey the Channel at the Home Office’s request and is also considering deploying small Navy patrol boats.

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