Leading chambers say press release presented unevidenced political opinions as fact and breached Civil Service Code
Immigration barristers lodge formal complaint over recent Home Office press release claiming increase in abuse of modern slavery system
30 March 2021
Members of the immigration bar from One Pump Court, Garden Court, Matrix and many others chambers have sent a formal complaint to the Home Office over a controversial 20 March press release issued by the Home Office and the Home Secretary which spoke of an "[a]larming rise of abuse within modern slavery system".
We covered the Home Office press release and some of the initial concerns it generated in an earlier piece on EIN here. The press release indicated that "child rapists, people who threaten national security and failed asylum seekers" were responsible for a major increase in the abuse of the modern slavery system.
In their six-page complaint sent on Friday, which you can download here, members of the immigration bar said the press release had breached the Civil Service Code core duty to act with 'integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality'.
One Pump Court Chambers said in an accompanying press release issued yesterday that the immigration bar had objected for the following three reasons:
• The heading and contents of the press release aimed to create the impression that there has been an 'alarming rise of abuse' of the UK's system for identifying victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, although it presented no evidence whatsoever that this is actually true.
• The press release demonised 'failed' asylum seekers and people referred to the UK's system for identifying victims of modern slavery.
• The use of government resources to further nakedly polemical aims contravened constitutionally important principles of public policy.
The complaint stated: "The list 'child rapists, people who pose a threat to our national security, serious criminals and failed asylum seekers' (which a Google search reveals has recently been repeated in a number of different places) suggests a false equivalence between, on the one hand, 'child rapists, people who pose a threat to our national security and serious criminals' and, on the other 'failed asylum seekers'. 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. … [A]ny suggestion that the list is not implying an equivalence between failed asylum seekers and the other categories would be disingenuous."
The complaint added that the Home Office's assertion that there had been "an alarming rise in people abusing our modern slavery system by posing as victims in order to prevent their removal and enable them [to] stay in the country" was not supported by any evidence set out in the press release.
One Pump Court explained: "The evidence quoted in the [Home Office] press release shows that referrals to the NRM [National Referral Mechanism] doubled in the period 2017-2020 from 5,141 to 10,613. In 2019, we are told, 89% of those referrals had a positive 'reasonable grounds' assessment. On the face of it, this would seem to indicate that Theresa May's policy aim of tackling modern slavery was being taken seriously and meeting with some success.
"Instead—and without presenting one iota of evidence to justify the assertion of any abuse of the system, let alone a rise in such alleged abuse, still less an 'alarming' one—the press release speaks of an 'alarming rise in people abusing our modern slavery system by posing as victims in order to prevent their removal and enable them stay in the country.'
"The fact that only a designated First Responder can admit a person to the NRM is an important protection against abuse of that system: it ensures that individuals and those who represent them cannot clog it up with hopeless or vexatious claimants 'posing as victims'. The assertion, therefore, is demonstrably untrue."
The immigration bar said the Home Office press release had presented unevidenced political opinions as established fact, which risked misleading the public.
One Pump Court said that asserting an alarming rise in abuse without evidence was "propaganda not public information".
The barristers said they looked forward to receiving a prompt reply from the Home Office to their complaint. The complaint was signed by barristers from One Pump Court Chambers, Garden Court Chambers, Garden Court North Chambers, the 36 Group, Goldsmith Chambers, Matrix Chambers, 10 King’s Bench Walk Chambers, No 5 Chambers, No 8 Chambers, Trinity Chambers, Drystone Chambers and 33 Bedford Row.
A Home Office spokesperson was quoted by The Independent as saying: "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."