The Home Office is keeping watch on immigration practitioners to ensure they are regulated and not breaching their obligations, it has emerged.
The news came in the wake of a minister’s claim that the Home Office is “monitoring the activities… of a small number of legal practitioners” .
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick made the comment in the House of Commons on Tuesday during a debate on the violent disorder that occurred last week outside an asylum accommodation centre in Knowsley.
He observed that immigration was “one of the most litigious areas of public life”, adding: “It is an area where, I am afraid, human rights lawyers abuse and exploit our laws at times, and where the courts have taken an expansive approach in the past.”
Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael then asked how many lawyers the Home Office had reported to their regulators in the past year for abusing the system.
Mr Jenrick replied: “We are monitoring the activities, as it so happens, of a small number of legal practitioners, but it is not appropriate for me to discuss that here.”
On Twitter, several users described this comment as “chilling” and “sinister”.
Asked by Legal Futures to explain it, a Home Office spokesman said: “People who make dangerous journeys by putting their lives at risk to reach the UK often seek immigration advice.
“When considering representations, the Home Office ensures that firms raising such immigration matters have the correct regulatory credentials. If evidence exists that obligations have been breached, we may refer the firm to regulators.”
He did not answer whether and how many referrals have been made.
Immigration advisers who are not qualified lawyers must be approved and regulated by the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC). As of last year, it regulated 3,626 individual immigration advisers and 1,838 organisations.
OISC often prosecutes people for giving unauthorised advice and/or fraud; a list it released this week showed it has 16 ongoing prosecutions.
A thematic review of immigration work published in November by the Solicitors Regulation Authority said that, although generally firms were providing a good level of service, there were areas of concern that needed to be addressed.
Ten of the 40 law firms that took part in the were referred for possible disciplinary action after it found “significant shortcomings”.