While the play Shakespeare wrote that line for (Henry VI, Part 2) is hardly ever performed, the sentiment is not only enduring, it’s growing in Shakespeare’s not so green and pleasant land.
Back on September 3rd, Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel posted a tweet that the government had expelled refugees arriving in small boats who had “no legal right” to be there. She then said that the government’s efforts to remove these illegals were being “frustrated by activist lawyers.”
This came a week after the Home Office was forced to take down its video which accused “activist lawyers” representing migrants of trying to disrupt Britain’s asylum system. The chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC, said that lawyers should not be political targets for simply doing their jobs. “Irresponsible, misleading communications from the government, around the job that lawyers do in the public interest, are extremely damaging to our society.”
It seems she was right. Four days later, as The Guardian reported, “a man with a large knife entered a London law firm and launched a ‘violent, racist attack’ that injured a staff member before the assailant was overwhelmed.” A confederate flag and far-right pamphlets were allegedly found in the bag he was carrying.
Did this cow Ms. Patel? Hardly. In the days following the attack and despite a roar of disapproval from the legal profession, she doubled-down on lawyer-baiting.
On October 4th she chose a Conservative conference to target “do-gooders and leftie-lawyers” she felt were helping asylum-seekers exploit the immigration system in order to stay in the country. “No doubt those who are well-rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights.”
Two days later Boris Johnson upped the ante, telling the same conference that Britain’s criminal justice system was “being hamstrung by lefty human rights lawyers.”
In the days following, all kinds of lawyers’ groups attacked Pitel and Johnson, demanding an apology. None came, of course. In fact, Pitel tripled-down on slagging a profession whose members – including lawyers employed by her own government – are now casually attacked by their boss (and her boss) for simply doing their job in the public interest.
Last week, her spokesman urged the hundreds of lawyers and judges who signed a petition to “get back to work” as soon as possible, adding: “Are Left-wing lawyers above reproach and to be free of all criticism? It is truly ridiculous.”
Meanwhile, other British law firms have received increased levels of abuse, threats and hostility as a result of the Home Secretary’s and Prime Minister’s ember-stoking. Some firms have had to bring in security guards.
Of course, Britain’s not the only rule-of-law power to play hardball identity politics with anyone who gets in its way. Donald Trump’s America wrote the playbook on using Department of Justice officials to emasculate any lawyers who get it in its way, especially if they work for the Department of Justice.
But when Trump baselessly claimed in a campaign rally on Saturday, “You know, our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID, right?”.
I knew that the profession which takes an oath to do no harm is next.