Directors from two legal businesses which generated £2.5m in fees by providing unregulated immigration advice have been fined nearly £17,000 and ordered to pay over £28,000 in compensation.
Dan Romulus Dandes and Babbar Ali Jamil, directors at DDR Legal Services, and Zia Bi, director of Burlow & Spencer, were sentenced at the Old Bailey having previously been found guilty of six counts relating to 19 offences of providing unqualified immigration advice and/or services
Immigration is the only area of law which is not one of the reserved legal activities but is subject to a standalone regulatory regime that allows non-lawyers to practise in it, overseen by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
Romanian practitioner Mr Dandes – who claimed his qualification in the EU allowed him to operate DDR – used it as a consultancy and supervision business helping people set up immigration law ‘franchises’.
He said this meant law firms could circumvent regulation by the OISC or any other appropriate regulatory body as they were under Mr Dandes’ supervision.
However, Mr Dandes did not have the necessary UK qualifications to act in a supervisory role, so he was unqualified to supervise, and any advice given by an individual or firm under this scheme was unregulated and illegal.
Burlow & Spencer, one of the firms he allegedly supervised, was investigated after OISC received an unprecedented 95 complaints about the quality of its immigration advice. It ceased trading in 2019.
DDR claimed to have 18 licensees, who had processed nearly 67,000 applications and turned over almost £27m.
Mr Dandes received a £20,000 compensation order and £750 fine. Mr Jamil, who is currently believed to be out of the country, was fined £10,000 in his absence. Ms Bi was given a fine of £6,000 and an £8,745 compensation order.
Sentencing, Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro QC said: “The consequential loss and the impact on the complainants is far-reaching and in some cases devastating…
“All of the defendants were of previous good character. The mitigation in all cases is a genuine lack of knowledge that the criminal behaviour was in fact criminal. Both Ms Bi and Mr Dandes now accept that they were negligent and innocent people suffered as a result.”
At the trial in 2019, Mr Dandes told the court he provided advice to immigrants in the UK because he believed it was “100% legal”.
Asked whether he realised his colleague’s membership of the Bar in Romania was not valid for providing immigration services in the UK, Mr Jamil said: “I had no idea.”
As a result of their work, however, one of the complainants to OISC had to leave the UK permanently, another paid £7,000 in expenses to contest a failed application, others had to travel to Shanghai or Bangkok to submit applications which were bound to be rejected, and a couple who travelled for work were unable to leave the UK for two years while their documentation was sorted out.
John Tuckett, the Immigration Services Commissioner, said: “As the judge stated, these financial penalties will not be able to fully or properly compensate victims for the ‘severe consequences’ of the defendants’ actions, but we hope it will emphasise the importance of using a regulated immigration advisers.”