Chalk demands SRA sanctions lawyers who cheat immigration system
By Law News
Following a report by the Daily Mail, the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk has written to the chair of the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) to call for punitive measures against solicitors who mislead the immigration system.
In a press release on 27 July, the Ministry of Justice said that the Daily Mail investigation showed alleged wrongdoing by lawyers appearing to offer ways for potential clients to mislead immigration officials in exchange for payment.
The press release continued:
While the vast majority of lawyers are upstanding individuals who work to the spirit and the letter of the law, anyone found guilty of abusing their position as legal professionals should face the consequences imposed by the independent regulator.
This is vital to ensuring that unscrupulous individuals do not undermine public trust in the immigration system.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:
"While the vast majority of lawyers take their professional responsibilities seriously, these allegations of exploitation and unscrupulous practice brought to light by the Mail are truly shocking and it is vital that those found to be abusing their position face the full consequences of their actions.
"I am determined to rebuild the public’s confidence that it is their country and their government who should decide who comes here, not people looking to profit from undermining our laws. That’s why this government will continue to strain every sinew to end the abuse of our system and stop the boats."
In his letter, the Lord Chancellor said:
"I would strongly encourage you to use the full force of sanctions available to you against solicitors where there is a finding of a breach.
"Solicitors are critical to the operation of a fair immigration system. I know that the overwhelming majority take their professional duties and obligations extremely seriously.
"However, any examples of practices which fall short of the high ethical standards we expect of solicitors risk serious disruption to the immigration system, tarnishing the reputation of those working in this area, and critically undermining public confidence."
The Lord Chancellor has also called for this incident to result in a follow up to the immigration advice review done by the SRA last year, which found there were no widespread or systemic failings or issues with quality.
It did, however, agree that firms needed to make more effort to put proper supervision in place. It also identified specific firms that were falling short and referred them into the SRA’s enforcement process.
The Lord Chancellor continued:
"Ensuring public confidence in our immigration system is a top priority for the government. I was therefore appalled to read recent examples in the media of apparent abuse of the system by individuals relied upon to give legal advice.
"In light of these recent allegations, I would urge you to undertake a targeted follow up to last year’s thematic review as soon as possible."
The SRA is independent from government and it regulates all solicitors and most law firms in England and Wales. It takes action against solicitors who don’t follow the rules - for instance, by taking someone’s money or acting dishonestly and last year the government gave the SRA new powers to fine rule-breakers up to £25,000.