The Home Office has been accused by prominent barristers of misleading the public on immigration issues in the UK which is in breach of the civil service code and equating “child rapists” with “failed asylum seekers”.
Twelve sets of chambers and also a number of independent barristers have submitted a complaint to the department regarding a press release published on the Home Office website entitled “Alarming rise of abuse within modern slavery system”, in which Priti Patel is quoted as stating that modern slavery safeguards are being “rampantly abused”.
The press release claims there have been “major increases” in “child rapists, people who threaten national security and failed asylum seekers, taking advantage of modern slavery safeguards” in order to prevent their removal and enable them to stay in the UK.
It goes on to say that the number of modern slavery protection claims has doubled in the period 2017 – 2020, but it does not present any evidence to suggest that there has been a rise in failed or false claims.
The barristers letter, whose signatories include One Pump Court Chambers and Garden Court Chambers, accused the department of “failing to care to distinguish between unevidenced political opinion and facts grounded in evidence” and “creating or perpetuating a risk of misleading the public”. It continues, “By permitting the ministry press office to become the mouthpiece for a political campaign, they failed to use resources only for the authorised public purposes for which they are provided”.
Victims of suspected modern slavery in the UK are referred to a framework called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which assesses whether there are reasonable grounds to believe they are a victim. If it is decided they are, they become eligible for financial support and housing, and cannot be deported until a conclusive decision is made on their case.
The Home Office in the press release cites the alleged “major increase” in abuse of this system as a reason to consult on whether to “strengthen” the threshold as modern slavery identification so that fewer people are viewed as potential victims.
The lawyers say the Home Office’s claim of an “alarming rise” in people abusing the modern slavery system by posing as victims to prevent their removal is ” not supported by any evidence set out in the article”. They add that the press release creates”false equivalence” between “child rapists, people who pose a threat to our national security and serious criminals” and “failed asylum seekers”.
“While these three categories all contain people who have demonstrably posed a serious danger to the public in some way, the final category “failed asylum seekers does not”. “Any suggestion that the list is not implying an equivalence between failed asylum seekers and other categories would be disingenuous”.
The barristers claim the governments’ press release contravenes all of the “core values” in the civil service code: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.
The press release was published days before the home secretary announced her new plan for immigration, which includes deporting asylum seekers who arrive in Britain via unauthorised routes and denying them rights if they cannot be deported.
The new plans also include opening up the possibility of processing asylum seekers offshore, and “clarifying” the standard on what qualifies as “a well-founded fear of prosecution in asylum claims.
Rudolph Spurling, of One Pump Court, who coordinated the letter said that Ms Patel’s “gratuitous attacks” against the asylum system in the press release were “particularly concerning” given that she launched her new immigration plan a few days later.
“Lumping in failed asylum seekers with the ‘child rapists’ and ‘people who pose a threat to our national security and serious criminals’ was an egregious attempt to demonise people who’re not been shown to pose any danger to the public. Furthermore, there was no attempt to justify the rhetoric with relevant statistics”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our asylum system is broken and open to abuse. That is why we launched our new plan for immigration”. “Our position is supported by evidence including published statistics and Home Office analysis”.