I have to confess that I have been ranting past myself this week. But not without cause. The ill-informed attacks on the legal profession are hardly likely to reduce the strain on my laptop keyboard, to say nothing of my blood pressure.
But after some reflection, there do seem to be early signs of something sinister afoot. In the space of a few days, we have had the Home Secretary attacking immigration lawyers. I don’t doubt for one minute that the talk of lawyers and traffickers in the same sentence was designed to generate hostility towards those lawyers and affirm her disdain for the law generally. Then we had yesterday’s bizarre speech from the Prime Minister where he blamed ‘lefty lawyers’ for the years of court closures driven by his party in power. On top of these there was the Mail’s disgraceful and misguided attack on Duncan Lewis Solicitors whose only crime is to represent those who are weak –
All of this follows on from last year’s unlawful prorogation of parliament and the current plans to breach International Law with the Internal Markets Bill. We are seeing a growing disregard for the law alongside full on, coordinated attacks on the lawyers who are simply acting in their clients’ best interests. I am not alone in fearing that all of this is driving us towards unchallenged totalitarianism. The former President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger spoke yesterday at the International Bar Association Webinar on the Internal Markets Bill –
“Once you deprive people of the right to go to court to challenge the government, you are in a dictatorship, you are in a tyranny … The right of litigants to go to court to protect their rights and ensure that the government complies with its legal obligation is fundamental to any system … You could be going down a very slippery slope.”
Putting things into perspective we are a long way away from those countries where lawyers put their very lives at risk by simply doing their jobs –
But it is chilling even to think that we might be heading in that general direction.
The Law Society’s President Simon Davis has rightly warned that this dangerous rhetoric could actually put the physical safety of lawyers at risk – in the UK, in 2020 –
“Slinging insults at lawyers risks leading not just to verbal abuse but to lawyers being physically attacked for doing their job”
This is not just a worry for lawyers. It threatens to undermine the very fabric of our society. We should all be concerned about what is happening while we have our eyes elsewhere…