Judges and Legal Professionals: Afghanistan

Justice – in the House of Commons on 14th September 2021.

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Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Conservative, Eastleigh

What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to support judges who remain in Afghanistan following the recent military operation to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from that country.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

What recent discussions he has had with the Foreign Secretary on ensuring the safety of judges and legal professionals in Afghanistan.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I acknowledge the grave concerns of judges, legal professionals and beyond, both here and in Afghanistan, which are real and present. My Department continues to work urgently to support cross-Government efforts to provide safe passage for judges in Afghanistan, including by ensuring that individual cases that are brought to my attention are immediately lodged with relevant parts of the system.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Conservative, Eastleigh

We have seen some of the most talented legal professionals leave Afghanistan and come to the UK, and they should have a valuable place in the UK when they come here. What engagement has the Secretary of State had with the judiciary and legal professionals on supporting Afghan judges and legal professionals who will come to the UK or have already arrived?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I can reassure my hon. Friend that I am in daily communication with the judiciary and the wider legal profession—in fact, I am in daily communication with judiciary in Afghanistan—and I commend everyone for their efforts to support those judges and those who have dedicated themselves to building the rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan. As an example, the noble Lord Wolfson and I have been in regular contact with Mrs Justice McGowan, and we have discussed ways in which the legal community might provide support to help resettle Afghan legal professionals here in the UK.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

After raising directly with the Government hundreds of separate cases covering thousands of people, I know of only two cases that have been resolved. What are the Government doing to help refugees from Afghanistan who are facing massive delays in the tribunal backlog?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Let me deal with the specific issue of judges and other lawyers in Afghanistan, because that is what I am directly involved with. Yesterday, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme was announced. That provides a clear route to safety for judges, who are one of the groups to be prioritised under the scheme. Some judges have already been resettled here in the UK, and I will not rest until everyone who fits those important criteria and needs the support and safety of the rule of law is accommodated.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

Last month, soon after the Foreign Secretary was found topping up his suntan instead of doing his job, Labour worked with the Bar Council to send to the Foreign Office a list of 126 Afghan judges who were at risk. We received no response, and our only update was seeing the Justice Secretary publicly celebrating the fact that just nine of them have been relocated to the UK. Can he confirm whether the number of Afghan judges relocated to the UK remains in single digits, what the number currently is, and how much higher he expects it could have been if the Foreign Secretary had not been missing in action?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman has not been in touch with me once about these matters directly. I have been working directly with the legal sector, the Bar Council and individual leading members of the profession, virtually daily to try to identify particular schemes and approaches we can take to assist judges, prosecutors and other lawyers in Afghanistan. I would love to see the list he talks about, because I can assure him that I will not rest until we do everything we can to help these dedicated professionals. I will, of course, keep the House updated on numbers as and when they are made available to me.