Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
Lawyers have warned that the Home Office is misleading the public over UK immigration issues by ‘presenting opinion as fact’. A report published by The Independent, says that prominent barristers, including from Garden Court Chambers and 1 Pump Court Chambers, accused the Home Office press department of ‘becoming a mouthpiece for a political campaign’
Allegations of the Home Office improperly using their media power to make misleading statements on immigration is nothing new. For example, there have been numerous comments in the past about the advantages of a new "Australian style points system" by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel. It remains a bit of a mystery as to how the new points system is any more "Australian" than the old one. It is also worrying that Google is at times giving too much priority to Government websites in search results. A free media is needed to protect the public from false and misleading statements made by politicians in Government and others.
Top barristers accused the Home Office of breaching the civil service code and comparing ‘child rapists’ with ‘failed asylum seekers.’ The Independent reported that 12 sets of chambers and several independent barristers have complained to the government agency about a press release posted on the Home Office website on 20 March.
The release, titled ‘Alarming rise of abuse within modern slavery system’, features a comment made by Home Secretary, Priti Patel, claiming that “modern slavery safeguards are being rampantly abused.”
Major increase in child rapists
The press release also claims that there has been a ‘major increase’ in child rapists, people who are a threat to national security and failed asylum seekers abusing modern slavery safeguards to prevent deportation from the UK.
In addition, it states that the modern slavery protection claims have doubled between 2017 and 2020. However, no evidence was presented to suggest that there has been a rise in failed or false claims, according to The Independent report.
In a letter of complaint sent to the Home Office by barristers, they accuse the agency of: “Failing to take care to distinguish between unevidenced political opinions and facts grounded in evidence and creating or perpetuating a risk of misleading the public.”
“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,” the letter adds.
National Referral Mechanism
In the UK, suspected modern slavery victims are referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The NRM assesses whether a person has ‘reasonable grounds to be considered a victim of modern slavery.’
If they are deemed to be a victim, they could qualify for financial support and housing and cannot be removed from the UK until a concrete decision is made on their case.
The Home Office press release cited a ‘significant increase’ in the abuse of the modern slavery system in order to spark a consultation on whether qualifying thresholds should be strengthened so that fewer people are identified as victims of modern slavery.
Lawyers claim that the Home Office’s statement of an ‘alarming rise’ in people abusing the modern slavery system by posing as victims is unsubstantiated by any evidence in the press release.
“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,” lawyers argued in their letter.
“While the former 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 the other categories would be disingenuous,” the letter adds.
Contravenes core values
The barristers argue that the Home Office’s comments contravene every core value outlined in the civil service code: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.
The press release was published just days before Priti Patel unveiled her new UK immigration plan, which includes measures to deport asylum seekers arriving in the UK by non-legal means and denying them any rights if the government is unable to deport them.
The plans include proposals to process asylum seekers offshore and reclassify the standard on what qualifies as a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ when assessing asylum claims.
Rudolph Spurling of One Pump Court, who helped coordinate the letter of complaint sent to the Home Office, told The Independent: “Ms Patel’s gratuitous attacks against the asylum system in the press release are particularly concerning given that she launched her new UK immigration plan just a few days later.”
“Lumping in failed asylum seekers with ‘child rapists’ and ‘people who pose a threat to our national security and serious criminals’ is an egregious attempt to demonise people who’ve not been shown to pose any danger to the public. Furthermore, there is no attempt to justify the rhetoric with relevant statistics,” Spurling added.
A spokesperson for the Home Office 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.”
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