Priti Patel accused of stoking anger against lawyers with ‘grotesque’ comments after Liverpool bombing

Lawyers say ‘poor Home Office decision-making’ and delays to blame for dysfunctional asylum system

Lizzie Dearden,May Bulman
Wednesday 17 November 2021 13:13

Priti Patel has been accused of stoking anger against lawyers with “grotesque” comments over the Liverpool Women’s Hospital bombing.

The home secretary told journalists on a flight to Washington that the attack was a reflection of Britain’s “dysfunctional” asylum system and took aim at a “whole professional legal services industry that has based itself on rights of appeal”.

“It's a complete merry-go-round and it has been exploited - a whole sort of professional legal services industry has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day-in day-out at the expense of the taxpayers through legal aid,” she was quoted as saying.

“There's a whole industry that thinks it's right to defend these individuals that cause the most appalling crimes against British citizens, devastating their lives, blighting communities - and that is completely wrong.”

Her comments came amid questions over why the Home Office had failed to deport the bomber after an asylum application failed, and how security services failed to spot at least seven months of preparations.

The Law Society said half of asylum appeals were upheld and it was not lawyers, but “poor Home Office decision-making coupled with catastrophic delays that are crippling the asylum system”.

“When people are subject to a life or death decision they should have a right of appeal to make sure of a correct outcome,” president Stephanie Boyce added.

“The lawyers who advise any such claimants provide a public service. They deserve our gratitude for protecting the rights of refugees and ensuring justice is done.”

Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer, called the home secretary’s comments “horrifying” and raised fears that lawyers would be “targeted by angry members of the public”.

“It is pure political opportunism to say the asylum system was somehow to blame for someone deciding to blow themselves up outside of a hospital without knowing the full facts and motivations - it’s grotesque,” he added.

“What does the home secretary think that stoking anger against lawyers in a terrorism situation, which plainly has absolutely nothing to do with lawyers, will achieve?”

The Home Office has previously been accused of putting legal professionals at risk with comments on “activist lawyers”.

Home Office warned by watchdog after ‘activist lawyers’ tweet

In September 2020, a suspected far-right extremist allegedly attempted a terror attack at a solicitors’ firm targeted because of their work representing migrants.

The Home Office has refused to confirm the immigration status of attacker Emad al-Swealmeen, but immigration tribunal records suggest at least one asylum application had failed in 2017.

The 32-year-old is believed to have launched a second application, and was staying in asylum accommodation run by government contractor Serco at the time of the attack on Remembrance Sunday.

Refugee Action said the home secretary “should be ashamed for trying to use the appalling terror attack in Liverpool to vilify refugees seeking safety in the UK”.

Mariam Kemple Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, added: “The asylum system is crumbling but this is because of utter mismanagement and neglect by this government.

“Waiting times for decisions on asylum claims are at a record high, leaving refugees waiting years in dangerously dilapidated housing, banned from working and surviving on just £5.69 per day.”

Bridget Chapman, of Kent Refugee Action Network, said the suggestion that people were “routinely gaming the system” was “ridiculous” and accused Ms Patel of “deliberately attempting to deflect growing criticism of her handling of the current situation”.

Emad al-Swealmeen, also known as Enzo Almeni, pictured at Speke Hall near Liverpool in April 2017

“In the past she made similar incendiary comments about 'activist lawyers' and we subsequently saw an alleged far-right attack on a solicitors' office in London. She now appears to be reprising those comments, and to be targeting the Church of England with similar claims,” she added.

“It is true that the asylum system is dysfunctional but the blame for that lies firmly with the home secretary and her wrong-headed insistence on endless unworkable policies and performative tough talk.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said it was “extremely concerning” that the home secretary was “so blatantly seeking to make political capital from this horrific and tragic event”.

“Her policies have already created so much delay and dysfunction in the asylum system even before the ruinous changes envisaged in the Nationality and Borders Bill,” he added.

“Refusing to provide safe and legal routes to seek asylum in this country is enabling smuggling gangs and other dangerous people to thrive off the predicament this creates for refugees.”

The proposed law would make it a criminal offence for asylum seekers to cross the English Channel in small boats, or arrive in any way without official permission.

Research published by the Refugee Council on Wednesday indicates that around two thirds of migrants crossing the Channel will be granted protection, and 91 per cent of migrants came from countries where human rights abuses and persecution are common - including Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen.

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