The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is investigating an immigration law firm condemned by Sir Brian Leveson for a “systemic failure” in the way it allowed an unqualified caseworker to issue a judicial review without supervision.
Sir Brian, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, told the Administrative Court that the SRA was now “in a position to conduct the enquiry that they have commenced” into south London firm Rashid & Rashid.
Sitting with Mr Justice Green, he said that despite the “apologies proffered” by Rashid Khan, principal of the firm, and remedial steps being put in place to improve training and supervision at the firm, these did not “obviate the need for such full and proper investigation by the SRA as the SRA determine… We direct that a transcript of this judgment and the documents on the court file should be passed to them.”
The initial application was for judicial review of the rejection of asylum applications by two brothers born in Pakistan, who came to the UK on student visas. It was refused by Mr Justice Jay, who described the proceedings as “a complete shambles”, adding: “You have not begun to understand the basic rules and procedures which apply.”
Rashid & Rashid was summoned to appear before the Divisional Court to explain its conduct and why it should not be sanctioned. Sir Brian’s ruling, dating back to April, has only just been published.
The president said there was a “a systemic failure on the part of Mr Rashid Khan and his firm, in that he permitted or gave the impression that junior members of staff were able to use his name and allow documents to be served on the court and the defendant which purported to be with his authority and knowledge, but which had not been checked as legally justifiable.”
The lack of supervision made Mr Khan’s signature on the statement of truth a matter of concern. “The statement of truth is not an irrelevant mantra or mere verbiage,” Sir Brian said. “This court has now on a number of occasions reiterated the substantial importance attached to qualified lawyers being in a position diligently and carefully to scrutinise applications made to the court…
“We should, therefore, make it clear that we view the failures of Mr Rashid Khan and Mr Khokhar [the caseworker] relating to the statement of truth to be serious.”
Sir Brian said that a second area of concern related to whether the firm was acting in a “professionally appropriate manner” to its clients.
“If the firm extracted a fee of around £5,000 (said by Mr Rashid Khan now to have been £4,500) upon the promise that the client would be represented by experienced counsel, then it was clearly a breach of duty to entrust the case to an inexperienced case worker without the case having been analysed and the subject of advice from experienced counsel.”
Delivering judgment in R (on the application of Akram and another) v Home Secretary  EWHC 1359 (Admin) , Sir Brian said people in the position of the Akram brothers, seeking to avoid being removed from the UK, were “likely to be desperate”.
He went on: “They are thereby at risk of being easy prey to those who would extract fees upon the promise of experienced counsel being instructed to fight the case vigorously.
“When (or if) they discover they have been misled, it may be too late and they may well have long departed these shores, often through coercive removal.”
Sir Brian said there was a “pressing need” for lawyers acting for claimants in judicial reviews to do so “in a professional manner both towards their clients but also towards the court, bearing in mind that the paramount duty of all legal representatives acting in proceedings before courts is to the court itself.”
He continued: “The need for this warning to be taken seriously increases as the resources available to the courts to act efficiently and fairly decreases.
“If the time of the court and its resources are absorbed dealing with utterly hopeless and/or unprofessionally prepared cases, then other cases, that are properly advanced and properly prepared, risk not having devoted to them the resources that they deserve.”
A spokesman for the SRA commented: “We do not normally discuss the details of ongoing work. It is only if disciplinary action becomes necessary in our work that it becomes a matter of public record.”