The High Court has referred an immigration practice to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority after reviewing five “hopeless” judicial reviews, each of which had already been deemed to be an abuse of process.
Mr Justice Green, who warned this time last year that he would refer firms bringing “meritless” challenges to the SRA, said there was a “very important” wider context.
“It is well known that once interim relief is granted persons subject to removal directions are then released from detention. It is also a notorious fact that many of those persons then abscond.
“As such, a strategy designed to obtain interim relief but not pursue hopeless applications thereafter strikes at the very heart of the system of immigration control which parliament has instituted.”
Green J emphasised that the court was not making any “formal findings of fact” against Manchester firm Sandbrook Solicitors or any individuals employed there, but said there were “serious concerns” that its conduct had fallen “below the bare minimum standard”.
He said the five cases “exhibit a pattern whereby injunctions to restrain imminent removal, invariably upon a without-notice basis, are being sought in immigration cases but, when granted, are not pursued by the service of proceedings”.
The judge went on: “The pattern emerging suggests that a strategy or tactic is being deployed whereby without-notice injunctions are sought and then when granted the case is permitted to fade away from sight with the consequence that the failed asylum seeker or immigrant remains in the United Kingdom below the radar.”
Giving judgment in Re Sandbrook Solicitors  EWHC 2473 (Admin) – which was handed down in May but only published yesterday – Green J said: “If the time of the courts and the tribunals and their resources are absorbed dealing with utterly hopeless and/or unprofessionally prepared and conducted cases, then other cases, that are properly advanced and properly prepared, risk not having devoted to them the resources they deserve.
“The facts that are set out below reflect what has become an all too familiar and depressing pattern in which legal representatives demonstrate a lack of care and concern for the substantive and procedural rules governing claims for judicial review.
“They suggest, in our view, a deliberate disregard for the professional duties that all legal representatives owe to the court, and in the present case to the [Upper] Tribunal.”
Green J said that in each of the five cases handled by Sandbrook, Mr Justice Swift made orders in March this year refusing to apply for permission for judicial review on the grounds that they were totally without merit and an abuse of process.
He said that following the orders, “it was decided that Sandbrook, and in particular their managing partner and relevant caseworkers” should attend the Upper Tribunal. The managing partner was named as Imran Javid.
However, according to Sandbrook’s counsel, Mr Javid telephoned his partner on the morning of the hearing and said he was unwell and would not attend.
“The hearing had been convened specifically to afford Sandbrook the opportunity to explain the position in each of the cases,” Green J said.
“At best this was an opportunity which has been conspicuously rejected; at worst the approach adopted was a continuation of the obstructive approach reflected in the court papers on the five cases we have reviewed. The end result is that the specific questions that we had identified and were seeking answers to were not addressed.”
Green J ordered that the ruling and the court files on the relevant cases should be sent to the SRA. HHJ Raynor QC agreed. The court also noted that it was “aware of other court files in which Sandbook are the legal representatives where a similar pattern of conduct is evident”.
A spokesman for Sandbrook Solicitors said: “We are aware of the referral by Mr Justice Green of a small number of immigration matters in which we were referred to the SRA for review.
“Whilst it would be inappropriate for us to comment in detail at this stage whilst the SRA review is ongoing, we are confident that, in due course, once the same has been completed, we will be found to have acted appropriately and in accordance with our professional obligations at all times.”
A spokeswoman for the SRA said the regulator could not comment as this was an “ongoing matter that we are looking into”.