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Immigration watchdog concerned by evolving legal regulation

16 July 2019

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The regulator tasked with monitoring immigration advice has expressed concern over the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) new Standards and Regulations this week.

The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) is a non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Home Office, which regulates immigration advisers.

Immigration is not a reserved activity and non-lawyers are permitted to offer such advice if they have been licensed to do so by OISC.

OISC’s Annual Report and Accounts 2018/19, published on 11 July, spells out its close collaboration with legal regulators, including the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the SRA, CILEx and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

However, in one paragraph the report hints at ongoing conversation between OISC and the SRA about changes to the handbook due to come into forced in November.

“In March 2019 the SRA announced that its handbook would be replaced with new Standards and Regulations from November 2019. Among the changes being introduced are important amendments to the rules which will allow SRA regulated solicitors to work in firms which are not regulated by the SRA”, the report highlights.

It continues: “The OISC has been in discussion with the SRA regarding these changes and we continue to be deeply concerned as to how they will affect OISC regulated firms.”

Elsewhere the report details collaboration with legal regulator on identifying “apparent abuse of the immigration systems”.

It says there has “also been much liaison with the Judiciary, BSB and HM Courts and Tribunals Service regarding de-registered or suspended OISC advisers (based on issues concerning fitness and competence) who continue to act under what are considered unsuitable supervisory arrangements with barristers”.

This work has led to the BSB issuing new guidance to barristers. However, the SRA’s ongoing liberalisation of legal services appears to sparked unresolved debate.

Referring again to the SRA’s “fundamental changes to the conditions that apply to persons they regulate”, OISC warned: “While these are quite properly designed to benefit consumers, they risk having unintended consequences for the OISC in situations where there is potential for overlap between the two regulatory regimes.”

The report also flagged the ongoing independent review of legal services regulation, which it said may have consequences for future provision of immigration advice.

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