A leading British lawyer has compared the UK government’s attacks on the legal profession to the tactics employed by authoritarian regimes. Helena Kennedy KC, a renowned criminal lawyer and Labour peer, accused ministers of intentionally creating scapegoats. Kennedy, who is the president of council at the law reform and human rights charity Justice, emphasized that the findings of their report on threats to the rule of law were non-political.
According to the report, published by Justice, there has been a noticeable trend in the UK over the past five years of derogatory remarks targeting lawyers, such as “lefty lawyer” and “activist lawyer.” The report highlights instances like the government’s reaction to its defeat in two Brexit cases and ministers’ comments on lawyers challenging immigration policy. Kennedy stated that disrespecting the law by categorizing lawyers as “lefty lawyers” representing asylum seekers or immigrants undermines public confidence in the legal profession.
Kennedy drew a parallel between the attacks on lawyers in authoritarian regimes and the UK government’s actions. She emphasized that authoritarians target judges, journalists, and critics, eventually leading to the jailing of lawyers and undermining public trust in the legal system. Kennedy emphasized the importance of accountability and respect for the law.
The report also raises concerns about the supreme court’s alleged alignment with the government in recent years. This alignment, whether coincidental or not, risks giving the perception that the highest court in the UK has been influenced by ministerial pressure. Justice’s report recommends safeguarding judicial independence and the legal profession, rejecting the use of inflammatory language against them.
Kennedy noted that attacks on lawyers disproportionately target women, as they often work in areas with insufficient funding and require emotional intelligence. The report underscores the need to protect the rule of law and urges the government to reject inflammatory language and safeguard judicial independence.
The UK Ministry of Justice spokesperson stated that every individual is entitled to representation regardless of their case or cause. They also emphasized that no lawyer should experience harassment or abuse for merely performing their duties.