A campaigner who used her email address as a committee member of the Solicitors International Human Rights Group (SIHRG) to conduct unlawful immigration law work was convicted this week.
Alexandra Zernova, who was sole director of London City Associates, was fined £3,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,000 by Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday.
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).
The prosecution of Ms Zernova was brought by OISC after being alerted by the SIHRG. She pleaded guilty to seven charges of providing unlawful immigration advice, which occurred while she was the SIHRG’s education and training officer.
The group’s chair, solicitor Lionel Blackman, told Legal Futures that she used her SIHRG email in connection with giving immigration advice.
“We became aware of this after her resignation on unrelated matters. The email assigned to her then came back into administration control and the emails were discovered.”
He added: “We regard the matter as quite sad really, as undoubtedly Sasha has and continues as far as we are aware to devote much of her time voluntarily to campaigning for justice and the human rights of others.”
According to her LinkedIn profile and Companies House, Ms Zernova is currently a director of Colombian Caravana, a UK-based charity that works to promote access to justice and uphold the rule of law in Colombia.
The website of London City Associates describes it as providing “business and legal consulting, financial and accounting services”, and operating in both English and Russian.
Upon sentencing, the magistrate said: “You knew that you were not to provide these services. That is for good reason… Those who seek immigration services are often the most vulnerable.
“You know about these things as you trained in this, you are trained about clients, about their vulnerabilities and about the duty on us as a profession to abide by the highest standards of ethics towards our clients. You did not do that.
“The offences are aggravated by it being over a number of years with several distinct clients.”
The magistrate said there was no guidance on sentencing for such offences. “I have noted the aggravating features as I see them, but also the fact that you have cooperated as far as I can tell, and your guilty plea at the earliest opportunity. I will deal with you by way of a fine.
“This is the first time I do so with one of these cases. I take these offences seriously, as it undermines the legal protections in this country.”
John Tuckett, OISC commissioner, said: “Immigration services are regulated to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society and to ensure people are getting the advice they need. This is why all immigration advisers must be registered by the OISC or be a qualified lawyer to ensure they meet standards in knowledge and ethics.
“We are pleased with the result, and that we have been able to bring forward another successful prosecution.
“However, the length of time Ms Zernova was able to operate illegally reinforces the importance of people or organisations like the SIHRG coming forward and reporting knowledge of poor or illegal immigration advice to the OISC.”