Chalk urges SRA to take action over immigration solicitors

Chalk: Appalled by what he read in Daily Mail

The Lord Chancellor has urged the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to take more action over abuse of the immigration system by solicitors.

In a letter to SRA chair Anna Bradley, he called for the “full force of sanctions” to be used against lawyers found guilty of breaching their professional obligations.

He was writing in response to a series of Daily Mail articles this week that appeared to show lawyers suggesting how potential clients – actually undercover reporters – could mislead immigration officials in making claims to stay in the UK.

Mr Chalk said he was “appalled” by what he had read and called on the SRA to undertake a “targeted follow-up” to the thematic review of immigration work it conducted last year “as soon as possible”.

Ten of the 40 law firms that took part in the review were referred for possible disciplinary action after the regulator found “significant shortcomings”.

More broadly, the review said that, although generally firms were providing a good level of service, there were areas of concern that needed to be addressed.

Mr Chalk said: “I would be grateful for an update on your plans to do this, as well as an assessment from you of which of your interventions have been successful and what more remains to be done.

“In particular, your review said 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 your enforcement process.

“Despite this, these reports suggest that there are still firms operating that are not compliant. As I’m sure you will agree, this is unacceptable and must stop.”

Mr Chalk acknowledged that the “overwhelming majority” of solicitors took 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.”

He “strongly” encouraged the SRA to use “the full force of sanctions available to you against solicitors where there is a finding of a breach”.

In an accompanying statement, 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.”

An SRA spokesman said: “We can confirm we are investigating the firms/individuals. As a result of the information provided, we are looking to take urgent action to make sure the public are protected.

“All solicitors should uphold the high professional standards that we and the public expect of them. This is especially important in areas such as immigration, where those involved may be among the most vulnerable in society.

“If we find evidence that solicitors or firms we regulate have acted in ways that contravene our rules, and in particular their duty to act legally and uphold the law, we can and will take action.”

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