Rishi Sunak says ‘unacceptable’ rogue solicitors who were found telling migrants how to cheat the asylum system must face the ‘full force of sanctions’ and calls for a review by the legal watchdog
- PM and Lord Chancellor say corrupt immigration lawyers should face ‘sanctions’
- Alex Chalk called on watchdog to conduct urgent review into legal sector
- READ MORE: Fury as Bar Council attacks Rishi Sunak after he criticised lawyers
Ministers last night urged regulators to throw the book at corrupt immigration lawyers exposed by the Mail.
In an unusual step, Rishi Sunak and Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk said the ‘appalling’ conduct uncovered by this newspaper must be met with the ‘full force of sanctions’.
In a letter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), a copy of which has been seen by the Mail, Mr Chalk said the practices exposed were ‘unacceptable and must stop’. He called on the watchdog to conduct an urgent review of the sector to root out corrupt behaviour.
The move was echoed by the Prime Minister, who said immediate action was needed to restore public confidence. Mr 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 an unusual step, Rishi Sunak (pictured) and Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk said the ‘appalling’ conduct uncovered by this newspaper must be met with the ‘full force of sanctions’
VP Lingajothy (pictured) asked for £10,000 to invent a horrific back story to use in the asylum application
Rashid Ahmad Khan (pictured) told our covert reporter he can’t help him apply for asylum if he doesn’t say ‘his life is in danger back home’ and told him to lie to the Home Office
Malik Nazar Hayat (pictured) told our reporter the whole process would cost £5,500 in cash, a price he insists is a steal from his usual fees of £12,000 to £15,000 for similar cases
The interventions followed this newspaper’s damning investigation into the activities of unscrupulous lawyers charging thousands of pounds to submit false asylum claims for illegal immigrants.
READ MORE: Lawyers charging £10,000 to make fake asylum claims: Special investigation exposes staff at immigration law firms briefing clients on how to LIE to the authorities to win the right to stay in Britain
Some law firms are charging up to £10,000 to invent stories of torture, death threats and modern slavery designed to help clients claim asylum. The investigation found legal staff readily agreeing to help submit false claims, in apparent contravention of the solicitors’ code of conduct.
The Mail has handed over its evidence to the SRA, which is looking into the allegations. The independent watchdog said it would take action if it found evidence that solicitors or firms have acted in ways that contravene its rules and their duty to act legally and uphold the law.
In his letter to SRA chairman Anna Bradley, Mr Chalk said ‘robust’ action was needed to retain public confidence in the immigration system, which he said was a ‘top priority for Government’.
He said he was ‘appalled’ by the ‘apparent abuse of the system by individuals relied upon to give legal advice’.
‘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,’ he said.
‘It is vital that we show the public – and the majority of honest and professional solicitors – that this kind of abuse of the system will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly.’
Mr Chalk said solicitors were ‘critical to the operation of a fair and robust immigration system’. But he added: ‘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 SRA has the power to levy substantial fines and even shut down law firms with immediate effect. Crucially, it can also refer rogue lawyers to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which can levy unlimited fines and strike off solicitors, leaving them unable to practise.
However, a loophole in the law means that while migrants can face criminal sanctions for submitting false claims, it is much harder to prosecute their lawyers.
Mr Chalk urged the SRA to reopen a review of the immigration law sector, which previously raised concerns but found that ‘overall, we were satisfied with the quality of service being provided’.
Mr Chalk said the Mail’s investigation ‘suggests that there are still firms operating that are not compliant’, adding: ‘As I’m sure you will agree, this is unacceptable and must stop.’
Policing minister Chris Philp called for immediate action against those involved. ‘The Mail’s reporting exposes disgraceful conduct – fraudulent conduct – by these so-called immigration lawyers,’ he said.
‘They are… fabricating these asylum claims, doing it potentially on quite a wide scale. It’s completely unacceptable for these lawyers to be committing what seems to me to be fraud, getting people to submit totally fabricated accounts.’
In a letter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), a copy of which has been seen by the Mail, Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk (pictured) said the practices exposed were ‘unacceptable and must stop’
Ministers last night urged regulators to throw the book at corrupt immigration lawyers (Muhammad Azfar Ahmad pictured) exposed by the Mail
The Lord Chancellor’s robust intervention stood in stark contrast to the response from the Bar Council, which triggered a backlash this week when it attacked Mr Sunak for criticising corrupt immigration lawyers.
READ MORE: Fury as the Bar Council attacks Rishi Sunak after the Prime Minister criticised immigration lawyers exposed by the Mail as trying to help migrants falsely claim asylum
The PM accused ‘the Labour Party, a subset of lawyers (and) criminal gangs’ of being ‘on the same side, propping up a system of exploitation that profits from getting people to the UK illegally’.
The Bar Council’s vice-chairman, Sam Townend KC, accused the PM of ‘playing politics with the legal profession’ in a way that ‘undermines the rule of law’.
But Tory MPs urged the body to focus on the wrongdoing exposed by the Mail.
Former minister Brendan Clarke-Smith said: ‘The Bar Council should be supporting him in challenging this immoral and in some cases illegal behaviour, not criticising him for standing up for the British people and the integrity of our legal system.’
Mr Philp said: ‘The PM was right to criticise what happened as robustly and roundly as he did. Regardless of what your views are on immigration, I think everybody would accept that having lawyers concoct totally fabricated claims to try and cheat our system is morally abhorrent.’
Among the rogue legal advisers we exposed was V P Lingajothy, who asked for £10,000 to invent a horrific backstory to use in the asylum application, including claims of sexual torture, slave labour and imprisonment. After the Mail approached the south London firm he was representing, he was sacked.
Legal authorities suggested those exposed by the Mail’s investigation could fall foul of Section 25 of the 1971 Immigration Act, which prohibits facilitating illegal migration. But this is thought to apply only to those who help the act of unlawful entry, not helping the illegal immigrants after they have arrived.
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