Boris Johnson told to withdraw attack on ‘lefty human rights lawyers’ by top barrister

‘It is the continual lack of investment that hamstrings the system,’ not lawyers doing their jobs, says Bar Council chief

Jon Sharman
Friday 09 October 2020 16:47
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'Justice is being hamstrung by do-gooders', Boris Johnson says

Boris Johnson must withdraw his attack on “lefty human rights lawyers”, the head of the bar in England and Wales has urged him in a letter.

The prime minister claimed during his Conservative Party conference speech on Tuesday that his government was working to stop “the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the home secretary would doubtless – and rightly – call the lefty human rights lawyers, and other do-gooders”.

The jibe echoed Priti Patel’s own Tory conference comments on the state of the country’s legal system – and has sparked a furious backlash from lawyers.

The real problem affecting the administration of justice is “chronic underfunding” which has been a problem for years, they say. 

Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, told The Independent in July that a backlog of 37,500 cases had formed in crown courts by last year because they were “grossly underfunded and the government wouldn’t pay for sitting days”.

On Friday Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council and representing some 18,000 barristers, demanded in a letter to Mr Johnson that he withdraw his remark.

She wrote: “Far from the criminal justice system being ‘hamstrung’ by lawyers, the backlog of cases, extreme delays, crumbling court estate and shockingly underpaid practitioners are a direct result of chronic underfunding by successive governments.

“It is the continual lack of investment that hamstrings the system and prevents many members of the public from accessing effective justice.

“The government cannot remain committed to [the rule of law] by attacking those who put it into action every day.

“I urge you to withdraw your comments and to reassure thousands of key workers – including lawyers employed by your own government – that they are not being attacked by their prime minister for their important contribution to the justice system.”

The Independent has contacted No 10 for comment.

On Thursday, one senior lawyer said that continued attacks on the profession by the government may be taken as “a confession that we no longer live in a democracy”.

Roddy Dunlop QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, called the PM’s comments “unconscionable” and added: “Whether the topic is immigration, or crime, or the constitution, lawyers that act against the state are not being ‘lefty’, nor ‘activist’: they are doing their professional duty.

“It is simply unconscionable for Her Majesty’s government to decry in this way the actions of professionals.”

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