Profession backs immigration solicitor over Conservative “hit job”

McKenzie: Put at considerable risk of harm

The Law Society and Bar Council have issued a joint statement expressing their “grave” concern at Conservative Party-inspired media attacks on a leading immigration solicitor.

Jacqueline McKenzie, head of immigration and asylum law at Leigh Day, yesterday spoke out about “a hit job” about her links with the Labour Party that she described as “vile and self-serving”.

Writing in The Guardian, she said: “[It] put me and those close to me at considerable risk of physical harm. I’m having to take security advice and precautions, such is the seriousness I place on ominous emails I have received.”

Ms McKenzie, who said most of her work focused on the Windrush scandal, said journalists had told her that “they’d been sent a dossier about me from Conservative Party HQ, which had either deliberately or inadvertently been attached to an email”.

It in, “someone had drawn a diagram linking Keir Starmer to anyone who challenged the Conservatives’ Rwanda plan”.

The solicitor went on: “There was mention of a case in which I represented a Jamaican man who had lived in the UK from the age of nine and was facing deportation.

“It said that I was a hired adviser on race to Starmer, when in fact I am an unpaid volunteer on a working group set up by Labour to look at race disparities across a number of indicators, just as the Conservatives did with the Sewell report.

“It also ‘outed’ me as a trustee of Detention Action, a well-respected NGO supporting people in immigration detention centres, presumably because the organisation challenged the Rwanda scheme in the courts. The dossier did not mention that I had become a trustee after that challenge.

“I did represent a man who was one of seven shackled on the tarmac waiting to be flown to Rwanda before the flight was grounded by the courts. I feel no shame: a doctor in the immigration detention centre confirmed that my client displayed signs of being a victim of torture.

The articles were similar. The Daily Telegraph headline was “Labour race adviser boasted of stopping deportation to Rwanda”, while The Sun described her as “a senior lawyer leading efforts to block the Rwanda move [who] also served as a race adviser to Labour”.

The Express quoted Home Secretary Suella Braverman suggesting that Sir Keir Starmer “is secretly delighted at his web of cronies’ schemes to block our plans to stop the boats”.

The Daily Mail was the only paper to carry a rebuttal from Ms McKenzie, with the article sourced from the Press Association, noting that the information was part of the government’s so-called ‘small boats week’ of announcements.

In a joint statement yesterday, Law Society president Lubna Shuja and Bar Council chair Nick Vineall KC said: “The legal community is gravely concerned by the experience of immigration solicitor Jacqueline McKenzie.

“No lawyer should be criticised, or made the subject of a targeted campaign, for doing their job. Everyone is entitled to legal representation, and it is a United Nations basic principle that lawyers should not be identified with the causes of their clients as a result of representing them.

“That is why – as we have said repeatedly – it is wrong to describe lawyers as ‘lefty’ or ‘activist’ simply on the basis of the causes they advocate on behalf of their clients.

“Lawyers who represent their clients are not only doing nothing wrong, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in playing their part in ensuring that the rule of law is upheld. Ms McKenzie has been doing exactly what she is supposed to do as an immigration solicitor, acting in the best interests of her clients within the constraints of the law.

“Political leaders know that lawyers represent their clients within the legal framework that parliament creates and CCHQ should seriously reflect on what has happened in this case.

“Language and actions that unfairly undermine confidence in the independence of the legal professions, and potentially risk the safety of lawyers, will ultimately undermine confidence in our entire justice system and the rule of law.”

Ms McKenzie wrote that the government’s action “represents a serious slur on the integrity and independence of thousands of hardworking and upstanding lawyers”.

She added: “The positive, however, is that millions of people in the UK see the behaviour of this arm of the ruling party as unacceptable. Judging by the vast amount of support I’ve received, not only from friends and colleagues, but from many strangers too, this government hit job has spectacularly backfired.”

Her partners at Leigh Day also spoke out, stating in an open letter their “complete support and admiration for the work that Jacqueline, her team, and many other lawyers around the country do to ensure that the law is applied accurately to their clients’ cases”.

It was “shocking and shameful” for a political party, “not least the party in government”, to send out the briefing that named Ms McKenzie.

“It is both irresponsible and extremely dangerous for anyone to be targeted this way, as we sadly saw in September 2020 when an immigration lawyer was attacked at his office by a man brandishing a knife, which reportedly followed comments by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“The document centred on Jacqueline’s supposed links to the Labour party and her work on a multi sectoral group chaired by Baroness Doreen Lawrence to examine race disparities in the UK which she was invited to volunteer for.

“Omitted from the briefing was Jacqueline’s involvement on another group chaired by Priti Patel MP on the Windrush scandal and the 90% of her work which is focused on legal support for victims of the Windrush scandal.”

The partners stressed their “commitment to access to justice for all extends to those seeking asylum in this country or who need support with their immigration status”.

They finished: “We are proud of the work we do and will not be cowed by a government whose strategy appears to be to attack and demonise lawyers, and the judiciary, merely for working to ensure the laws of this country are upheld.”

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