Complaints about the work of solicitors handling immigration appeals have finally reached the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), which has fined a solicitor £10,000 for acting recklessly by signing judicial review claim forms with inaccurate grounds of appeal and failing to supervise an employee who drafted the applications.
Achyuth Rajagopal admitted failing to read forms that had the grounds cut-and-pasted from a template by a junior member of staff, by so doing grossly misleading the Upper Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Chamber (UT) as to the merits of the individual cases.
The allegations were contained in a statement of agreed admissions and facts made between the solicitor and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The tribunal was invited to approve an ‘agreed outcome procedure’.
The disciplinary hearing took place at the beginning of February and the judgment was published on Friday. On the same day we reported that the SRA had launched an enquiry after the senior immigration judge, Mr Justice McCloskey, accused another law firm acting for the Rochdale grooming gang of “cavalier and unprofessional” behaviour in relation to appeals.
The judge has complained more broadly about the conduct of immigration lawyers, especially in applying for repeated adjournments.
Mr Rajagopal, who was born in 1975 and admitted in 2005, was a partner at immigration and family law firm G Singh Solicitors in Ealing, West London. The misconduct came to light after UT heard an application for permission to apply for judicial review of the refusal to allow a client leave to remain in the UK, on the medical grounds that he was psychotic.
Defending the case, the Treasury Solicitor pointed out that the medical report submitted on the client’s behalf contradicted the representations made in the grounds of appeal, which the UT described as “grossly misleading”.
The UT dismissed the application and made a wasted costs order for £1,492 on the grounds that the claim had been made when there was expert evidence available “which fatally undermined the very claim being made”.
The firm responded that a junior employee had drafted the case over the busy Christmas period. But the Treasury Solicitor brought to the court’s attention a further eight cases involving “grossly misleading” grounds, and the UT referred the firm to the SRA.
In a letter to the SRA shortly afterwards, the junior employee said he had just resigned after he was asked to take personal responsibility for drafting the grounds of appeal; he claimed that in preparing the grounds of appeal, he was directed to follow a stock precedent which he was requested to amend before submission.
Admitting two allegations that he had signed statement of truth in JR claims without reading the grounds of appeal and had failed to adequately supervise the junior employee, Mr Rajagopal conceded his culpability was high and that he had acted recklessly.
The agreed statement said the grounds of appeal “had potential to mislead [the UT]” but had not actually done so as a result of the actions of the Treasury Solicitor.
In mitigation, since the UT discovered the breaches of professional obligations, Mr Rajagopal had made “full and frank admissions”, the disciplinary tribunal recorded. He had written to affected clients offering to reimburse all professional fees, settle costs orders made against them, and offered other assistance.
He also investigated his JR files and found a further five cases where misleading grounds of appeal had been lodged.
The tribunal “noted that this was an embarrassing chain of events for the profession” and that “a solicitor in the respondent’s position should read important documents before signing them, rather than relying on an unadmitted fee-earner, even one with some experience of relevant cases”.
However, it accepted the misconduct was “not at the highest level of seriousness” and approved the outcome proposed by the parties, which was that Mr Rajagopal should be fined £10,000 and pay costs of £7,500.