More than 800 former judges and legal professionals have signed a letter accusing Boris Johnson and Priti Patel of “hostility” towards lawyers representing migrants seeking asylum.
In a letter to the Guardian, they said the PM and home secretary “endanger” lawyers’ safety with their comments and undermine the rule of law.
The signatories called for them to “behave honourably” and apologise.
No 10 said lawyers were “not immune from criticism”.
In August, the Home Office removed a video posted on social media accusing lawyers representing migrants of being “activists”.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, branded the video “misleading and dangerous”.
Earlier this month at the Conservative Party conference, Ms Patel referred to “do-gooders” and “lefty lawyers” in a speech on what she called the “broken” asylum system.
Her comments came after it emerged that the UK considered sending asylum seekers to an island in the Atlantic.
Ms Patel promised to introduce legislation next year for the “biggest overhaul” of the system in “decades” and said those opposed to her plans were “defending the indefensible”.
Mr Johnson went on to say he would stop the whole criminal justice system being “hamstrung” by “lefty human rights lawyers”.
Among those to sign the letter were three former justices of the UK supreme court – Lords Collins, Dyson and Walker – retired appeal court judges, former high court judges and scores of QCs and law professors, plus the directors of Liberty and Justice.
The letter stated: “We are all deeply concerned at recent attacks, made by the home secretary and echoed by the prime minister, on lawyers seeking to hold the government to the law.
“Such attacks endanger not only the personal safety of lawyers and others working for the justice system, as has recently been vividly seen; they undermine the rule of law, which ministers and lawyers alike are duty-bound to uphold.
“We invite both the home secretary and the Prime minister to behave honourably by apologising for their display of hostility, and to refrain from such attacks in the future.”
One of those to sign the letter, the former director of public prosecutions Lord Ken Macdonald, said lawyers were being “crudely and dangerously vilified”.
A No 10 spokesperson said that, while lawyers played an important role in upholding the law, “they are however not immune from criticism”.
The spokesperson said the government is clear that any form of violence is unacceptable.