Immigration Law Firms: calling out professional misconduct and fraud

It’s been widely reported that a former immigration judge has called for unannounced inspections of ‘suspect’ immigration firms. So what has led to his comments?

Retired immigration judge, James Hanratty, was speaking at the Henley Literary Festival to promote his book, The Making of an Immigration Judge, when he called for the snap inspections. He also called for prompt action by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, suggesting that the SRA should be more rigorous in pursuing immigration solicitors who abuse the system (a charge apparently rejected by the SRA, according to Legal Futures, who reported his comments).

What’s the problem?
Unfortunately, immigration firms have been getting somewhat of a bad press this year, and James Hanratty is not the only member or ex-member of the judiciary to call out problems with immigration law firms. In Sathivel, R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Green J had some critical words when giving judgment having heard three cases referred because of “concerns that the legal professionals acting in these proceedings have in their professional behaviour fallen far short of the standards required of those conducting proceedings on behalf of clients”. In these cases, the conduct of the professionals involved amounted to a serious and persistent failure to adhere to proper standards and referred each of them to the regulator.

Green J did acknowledge the fact that there are many highly professional practitioners in this “complex and difficult field who successfully reconcile the need to act in their client's interests with their duties to the Court”. Even so, a substantial cohort of lawyers consider litigation to be a tactic or strategy that can be used to delay and deter removal proceedings.

In his judgment, he went on to describe typical situations that the court and tribunals see too often, including solicitors promising high quality specialist services but, in reality, instructing paralegals and unqualified persons to draft complex and specialised pleadings and court documents (which are often cut and pasted) – in cases that are without merit.

Another typical situation is where immigration lawyers start proceedings as a delaying tactic, irrespective of the merits of the case. These are unacceptable situations of poor professional conduct, but even more concerning are those cases of dishonesty on the part of immigration practitioners. Recently, for example, an immigration solicitor was struck off in August after admitting knowingly sending improper legal aid claims worth £800,000 to the Legal Aid Agency, and failing to cooperate with LAA auditors.

These are serious issues which are being addressed. Immigration tribunals are now being urged to refer incompetent and dishonest practitioners to the regulator. The new JUSTICE Working Party report on immigration and asylum appeals, Immigration and Asylum Appeals - a Fresh Look, notes that (among other issues) instances of poor-quality and exploitative representation have put pressure on a system that is already complex and subject to frequent change. It says that there is a “serious issue of incompetent and dishonest advisers who purport to give advice and assistance to those with immigration and asylum claims”.

The Report calls for legal representatives, judges, tribunals and tribunal cases workers to report cases where solicitors to the relevant regulatory body of poor quality, incompetent or dishonest legal advice and representation in immigration and asylum cases.

What’s clear is that there are endemic problems among a proportion of immigration and asylum law practitioners, ranging from serious financial irregularities and fraud, poor professional conduct, and poor-quality advice and representation. Immigration lawyers who practice with integrity may understandably be loathe to report their counterparts, but they can take some measure of reassurance that these problems are being widely recognised and addressed.

The Working Party has made a number of recommendations to improve the system and achieve its vision of “fair, accessible and efficient legal processes”. We recommend practitioners read the Report in full.

 

 

Back to the SOLICITORS group News

Media Centre

“The Solicitors Group online directory is an established and respected channel for legal professionals, meaning I can talk to my existing and future customers about products and services both quickly and easily.”

Carole Hatton
Marketing Manager
Landmark Information Group

“Reaching our niche market can sometimes be challenging, however we find promoting our legal training courses on www.thesolicitorsgroup.co.uk an excellent way of contacting both existing and new customers. The service we receive from The Solicitors Group is both professional and relevant to our core activities and we would recommend their services to others.”

Euromoney

“I must say that to date we have been very pleased with the referrals we are getting from your site.”

Paul West
Orchid Cellmark

“The Newsdesk feature on www.thesolicitorsgroup.co.uk is ideal for us. Its prominent location on the site provides a great platform to communicate key messages to existing and potential clients.”

Neil Phillips
Marketing Manager
Countrywide Legal Indemnities

"We are very happy with the referrals we are getting from The Solicitors Group web-site."

C.A. Bishop
Technical Director
Wickham Laboratories Ltd

“We received 419 click-throughs to our site from advertising with www.thesolicitorsgroup.co.uk”

Legal Prospects

“Putting myself in my potential client's shoes, I consider www.thesolicitorsgroup.co.uk to offer perhaps the clearest and most user-friendly listing of expert witnesses, especially in its choice of index terms.”

Ivan Vince
ASK Consultants

“The banner ad looks great”

Samantha Dawson
Director
The Bundle Business Limited

“The Solicitors Group has been fantastic in helping us to raise awareness about bowel cancer, which kills 16,000 people every year in the UK. Bowel Cancer UK aims to save lives by raising awareness of bowel cancer, campaigning for best treatment and care and providing practical support and advice. Without the support of organisations such as the Solicitors Group we would be unable to carry out this vital work. We are very grateful to the team at the Solicitors Group for their support and assistance.”

Tamara Matthews
Legacy Officer
Bowel Cancer UK

“As a result of Law London, we have registered 208 new companies/firms to the website, generating £20,797 GWP to date, as well as reinforcing our presence in this very profitable marketplace.”

Aviva

“The event was well put together and executed, and the traffic of potential customers for us was high. We had a number of enquiries regarding our services after the event and we feel our attendance there was important to our overall brand exposure. We feel a Law event of this size without Euromoney Legal Training present could potentially be hurtful to us as a business. We would recommend you to attend and shall ourselves be there again in 2008.”

Euromoney

“Many thanks for the prompt service.”

Martin Gibbs MBE
Director / Investigator
Griffin Forensics Ltd

“A targeted email to key customers is an invaluable method of communication, endorse this with the Solicitors Group branding, relevant editorial content and you have created a winning combination! We look forward to reading the next edition.”

Carole Hatton
Marketing Manager
Landmark Information Group

“Talking directly to Property Lawyers is critical to us as they are key customers or potentially could be for all of our products, The Solicitors Group offer a perfect solution to get our messages right to the right people”

Carole Hatton
Marketing Manager
Landmark Information Group

“Thank you for having a useful and informative site, it is good to see a comprehensive and friendly portal.”

Stefan Fann
UK Probate Services

“Cadogans aims to keep its brand image in front of lawyers who may be looking for engineering experts. A check on Google analytics showed that referrals to our website from The Solicitors Group website were above average.”

Daphne Wassermann
Technical Director
Cadogans