Ms Braverman, who is advising you?
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor LinkedinDanielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
In September 2023 the Solicitors Regulation Authority issued a warning notice reminding immigration lawyers of their obligations. The warning was that there are solicitors who are potentially advising clients or prospective clients to falsify or fabricate information to support Home Office applications for asylum or leave to remain and reminding us that all solicitors should act with honesty and integrity upholding the high professional standards that the SRA and the public expect of us.
A month earlier on 24th August 2023 the Law Society advised that it is their priority to defend the profession against attacks from those in power. The Law Society stated that no lawyer should be criticised or targeted for doing their job and as the professional body for solicitors, they are working to robustly defend the profession and challenge the rhetoric from politicians and counter the perceptions that have been created in the media.
But what is particularly worrying to us asylum lawyers at this moment in time is how Suella Braverman treats LGBT asylum seekers who say they cannot leave the UK. Ms Braverman said to the US Think Tank “There are vast swathes of the world” where it is extremely difficult to be gay or to be a woman. Where individuals are being persecuted it is right that we offer sanctuary. But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect simply being gay or a woman and fearful of discrimination in their country of origin is sufficient to apply for protection.
Her comments downplayed the oppression that LGBTQ+ people face in many countries where there is a risk of violence, imprisonment and death. She also over plays the role of these people in the asylum migration system. When it comes to migration politicians have a tendency to use or reproduce and manipulate numbers. The problems is political not a legal problem. The question is not about the refugees, the question is about how States should share responsibility for legitimate refugees, those being persecuted and in fear of their life or liberty.
Andrew Boff, a Conservative London Assembly Member and patron of the LGBTQ+ conservative group, said that Braverman should stop engaging in dog whistle politics and focus on the basket case that was her department. It is a concern that our Home Secretary is engaged in a divisive and dangerous rhetoric and more to the point, you cannot just get protection for simply being gay, and for suffering discrimination rather than actual persecution. We are disappointed for the lack of legal accuracy. Asylum is not granted solely on the basis of being a women or being gay or being discriminated against. As asylum lawyers, we have to argue persecution and our clients need to meet a high threshold, including proving a real risk of serious harm. With other members of my profession I also questioned the idea that many people are pretending to be gay.
She said that a “hurricane of migrants” was threatening to enter the country. This speech sparked fierce criticism from the human rights groups and opposition MPs over her rhetoric and absence of an acknowledgement of her own Party’s failures in managing Britain’s asylum system.
Let’s get the record straight
- The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued a notable press release on 26th September 2023 saying that the Refugee Convention is the cornerstone of the International Refugee Protection regime and remains a life-saving instrument that ensures millions of people fleeing conflict and persecution each year can access safety and protection across borders. It recognised the complex challenges presented by a regular movement of refugees across and beyond the regions of origin, often together with migrants moving for other reasons, however, the Refugee Convention remains as relevant today as when it was adopted in providing a framework for addressing those challenges based on international co-operation. They state that the need is not to reform or have a more restrictive interpretation but for stronger and more consistent application of the Convention and underlying principle of responsibility sharing. https://www.ein.org.uk/news/unhcr-stresses-1951-refugee-convention-remains-relevant-today-when-adopted-after-home
- The All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees (APPG Refugees) called the Home Secretary’s speech in America chilling. They said that in that speech she could have outlined what the Government was doing to introduce safe routes or how the Government is tackling issues affecting refugees such as the asylum backlog and the use of hotels, but instead she has shown the world her chilling vision of the UK turning its back on vulnerable women and LGBTQ+ people. Yvette Cooper said that the speech was deeply divisive damaging political game playing which was unworthy of the Home Secretary. Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International Chief Executive said in a statement that Braverman’s speech was a display of cynicism and xenophobia. Rainbow Migration was appalled to hear that the Home Secretary is questioning the legitimacy of LGBTQ+ people claiming asylum in the UK and the Government’s statistics showed that only 2% of all asylum claims in 2022 included sexual orientation as a reason for needing protection.
- Suella Braverman might enjoy attacking lawyers, but the Government announcement that a task force has been put in place to uncover cases linking an immigration firm to one of the most wanted human traffickers received comments from the Vice President of the Law Society questioning what exactly the Government was announcing as the Professional Enablers Task Force has been in operation for months and the Government Regulators and Law Enforcement Agencies already have the power they need to deal with immigration advisors engaging in misconduct. He said that the overwhelming majority of immigration lawyers continue to support the Rule of law through their dealings with the law and professional standards set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and providing an essential service to the clients. The focus of the Home Office on a tiny minority of lawyers should not deflect from the fact that there remains a significant backlog of asylum claims or unworkability of the Immigration Act. The Bar Chair Nick Vineall KC said that “The role of lawyers is to advise and represent their clients whilst observing the ethical and conduct rules which apply to them. If and when lawyers breach those ethical and conduct rules it is right and necessary that they will be identified and sanctioned appropriately. However, he went on to caution “The Task Force must not fall into the trap of identifying lawyers with the cause of their clients, nor should he assume that misbehaviour by clients amounts to misbehaviour by lawyers”.