A solicitor has been struck off for engaging in “a systematic course of conduct designed to undermine the immigration system”.
Vay Sui Ip’s actions amounted to a “persistent” abuse of court process by issuing meritless judicial reviews (JRs) to get his clients’ removal from the UK delayed, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said.
The tribunal said the sanction should act as a deterrent to other solicitors tempted to act in the same way.
It also noted that the immigration system was open to abuse by those with wholly meritless claims.
Mr Ip found himself in trouble in 2015 after a High Court judge referred his firm, Sandbrook Solicitors in Manchester, to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after reviewing five “hopeless” JRs brought by the firm.
Mr Justice Green suggested the firm was employing a strategy of making without-notice injunctions on behalf of clients, “and then when granted the case is permitted to fade away from sight with the consequence that the failed asylum seeker or immigrant remains in the United Kingdom below the radar”.
Mr Ip was born in 1976 and admitted in 2009. He was one of two partners at Sandbrook, which closed at the end of 2015, which he told the tribunal was due to conditions put on his practising certificate and the inability to secure professional indemnity insurance in light of the SRA investigation.
The tribunal said Mr Ip’s action allowed him to obtain “apparently good results” for immigration clients where other solicitors who abided by the rules of professional conduct could not.
“[He] had been motivated by a desire to obtain and keep a good reputation in his community,” the tribunal said. “He was not acting entirely altruistically, as he was aiming to build up his business by obtaining referrals.”
It continued: “His apparent success in getting his clients’ removal deferred, and securing their release from detention, had been achieved because he had failed to be candid with the court, had made late submissions which had been substantially devoid of merit and had then failed to pursue the proceedings to a proper conclusion.
“He had remained ‘under the radar’ of the court on some applications, where he had drafted the papers but did not go on the record.”
Though dishonesty was not alleged, Mr Ip had “lacked integrity”, the tribunal said. It found that throughout the hearing “he had maintained the fiction that he had not drafted some of the JR applications and had maintained the attitude that he did not have any objective duty to give unpalatable advice; for example by advising clients that whilst they could make an application, it would not improve their proper prospects of remaining in the UK in the long term.”
Though not all the allegations were found proved, the tribunal said only a strike-off could protect the public and the reputation of the profession.
More generally, the tribunal found that there was a “particular vulnerability in the immigration system which left it open to abuse by those with wholly meritless claims”.
It explained: “Where a person present in the UK unlawfully made representations by way of an application for [leave to remain]… that person could not be deported until those submissions had been considered by the Home Office and a decision made.
“In theory, only ‘new’ submissions should be made, based on a change of circumstances, for example, or new evidence in support. However, where late submissions were made, there may not be a proper opportunity to consider whether or not these were new submissions, or simply a repetition, in slightly different words, of earlier matters.
“A method of frustrating deportations, therefore, was to make representations shortly before removal from the UK was due to take place, then apply for an injunction, pursuant to an application for JR, to prevent deportation pending the Home Office’s decision on the representations…
“When an injunction was granted, the client was generally released from detention… and had the opportunity to abscond.”