Two immigration lawyers who clocked up 14 judicial review applications in a single year found to be totally without merit have been fined by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The tribunal said partner Nurgus Malik and fee-earner Jusna Begum Miah had caused harm to vulnerable clients who were “charged for work of a very low standard with no prospect of success”.
The SDT said Ms Malik and Ms Miah, who worked at alternative business structure M-R Solicitors in Woodford, north-east London, “unfairly raised clients’ expectations with regard to them obtaining indefinite leave to remain”.
The lawyers were “aware of the demonstrable lack of merit in the applications, advised the clients of the same, advised the clients as to the costs implications for them, yet ultimately advised the clients that they could seek to challenge the decision by way of judicial review”.
All of the harm caused was “eminently foreseeable” and meant that resources were diverted away from genuine claims, which “inevitably undermined confidence in the system”.
The courts have regularly complained about the approach of immigration solicitors to appeals.
The Home Office submitted a report to the SRA in September 2015, outlining concerns about 45 law firms making a “disproportionately high” number of ‘totally without merit’ (TWM) judicial review applications in immigration and asylum cases.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) investigated and in a report in November 2016 identified that M-R Solicitors had submitted 24 applications which were certified as TWM in a period of 18 months between January 2015 and July 2016.
The regulator sampled 14 of these, five of which had been handled by Ms Malik and nine by Ms Miah in 2015.
Ms Malik was admitted as a solicitor in 2009, while the SRA understood that Ms Miah had been called to the Bar in 1998.
The SRA said that, in each case, the clients were vulnerable, having no lawful status in the UK. They faced removal to their country of origin, to which they did not want to return, having spent a “considerable number of years in the UK” but “were likely to have been unfamiliar with the UK legal system”.
Ms Malik and Ms Miah admitted all the allegations, including preparing applications for judicial review which they knew or ought to have known were totally without merit, and bringing claims which breached obligations not to make submissions which they did not consider were “properly arguable” and an abuse of process of the court.
The lawyers also accepted that they had charged vulnerable clients for “services which had no prospect of delivering for the client their desired outcome” and pursuing a course of conduct that undermined operation of the immigration system.
In mitigation, counsel for the pair argued that their clients were advised on their ‘low’ or ‘no’ prospects of success and on the costs implications of issuing proceedings, and had co-operated with the SRA.
The tribunal found all the allegations proven, but said the lawyers’ motivation was “albeit ill conceived, to help their clients as opposed to any sinister intent”.
Ms Malik and Ms Miah were each fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £26,552.
Ms Malik was banned from being a sole practitioner or partner in a law firm or ABS, from holding client money, being a compliance officer or a signatory on client account and working in any employment not approved by the SRA. Ms Miah was banned from working for law firms without SRA approval.