High Court rejects immigration solicitor’s “meritless” strike-off appeal

BBC: Ex-solicitor’s arguments about interview were ridiculous, court says

An immigration solicitor secretly recorded by the BBC advising how to obtain “fraudulent” evidence for a visa application has failed in his appeal against being struck off.

Certifying Sheikh Asif Salam’s appeal as “totally without merit”, Mr Justice Calver said the solicitor showed “no insight” into his misconduct and made “numerous unmeritorious attempts to stall or prevent” his disciplinary proceedings.

Calver J said those attempts were part of “an extraordinarily depressing tale of an abuse of the court’s procedures by the appellant in many different fora”, culminating in fourth and fifth meritless applications for judicial review.

The judge said that, even at his High Court appeal hearing, “instead of admitting his guilt and making submissions on sanction, he maintained the ridiculous argument that he was merely play acting or conducting research” at the meetings recorded by the BBC.

Delivering judgment in Salam v SRA [2024] EWHC 547 (Admin), Calver J said that, before being struck off, Mr Salam was an immigration solicitor running Cheshire law firm Salam & Co.

The solicitor was approached by an undercover journalist posing as a potential client, Client A.

“The case against him was that he was recorded, both audibly and visually, advising the undercover journalist as to how to obtain fraudulent accountancy evidence in support of an application for a spousal visa.

“After giving this advice, he telephoned the accountant to introduce the journalist with a view to perpetrating this fraud.”

The recordings were broadcast as part of a File on Four BBC radio documentary.

Calver J said the “overall delay created by the appellant’s meritless behaviour exceeded two years and resulted in no fewer than six adjournments of the substantive disciplinary hearing”, which was held in November 2022.

On the second day of the hearing, Mr Salam “claimed that he suddenly had been taken ill and that he required emergency treatment”, so the hearing had to adjourned until February 2023. At that hearing the solicitor applied for the chairman of the SDT to recuse himself on the grounds of apparent bias.

Calver J said the transcript of the meetings with Client A was “damning”. He went on: “On its face, it shows the appellant knowingly engaged in a thoroughly dishonest practice of advising and encouraging Client A to commit fraud, by pretending to have two jobs in order falsely to inflate her earnings (to meet the necessary financial threshold), with the participation of a ‘dodgy’ accountant recommended by the appellant.”

The SDT found that Mr Salam had acted dishonestly in introducing Client A to an accountant so she could obtain false documentation to support a visa application and struck him off.

On appeal, he argued that the decision was “wrong and unjust due to serious procedural and other irregularities in the proceedings”, “perverse and harsh” and the recordings were “not authentic”.

Calver J said there was Mr Salam adduced no evidence “which came close to supporting a prima facie case” that the recordings were not authentic, and Mr Salam’s argument was “hopeless”.

There was also “no merit” in the solicitor’s further argument that it was “unfair” of the SDT to proceed with the hearing on the basis that the audiotapes were genuine.

Calver J dismissed further arguments that there was “serious lack of rigour” by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and its lawyers Capsticks in refusing to stay the SDT proceedings and the SDT’s “final decision was wrong also due to the way the chair proceeded with the case”.

Mr Salam’s arguments that the finding of dishonesty was “wrong and unfair”, the SDT made “inconsistent findings” and it was “disproportionate” to strike him off were also rejected.

Calver J dismissed Mr Salam’s appeal, describing it as “bound to fail” and certifying it as totally without merit.

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