SRA shuts down three immigrations firms caught in Daily Mail sting

Bradley: Shocked by Daily Mail reports

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has shut down three of the law firms named in a Daily Mail undercover investigation last week after the newspaper provided recordings and transcripts of reporters’ dealings with them.

It is also launching an investigation into the immigration law sector and renewed its call for unlimited fining powers.

The closed firms are Rashid & Rashid in south-west London, Kingswright Solicitors in Birmingham, and Lincoln Lawrence in west London.

It has suspended the practising certificates of their principals, respectively Rashid Khan, Muhammad Ahmad and Muhammad Hayat.

It has also issued an order under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974 against VP Lingajothy, a CILEX member formerly of south London firm Duncan Ellis, meaning he cannot work for a law firm without the SRA’s permission.

The SRA said Mr Lingajothy worked as a manager and caseworker, handling immigration cases together with criminal and civil matters.

He “deliberately provided advice” to a Daily Mail reporter posing as a client “which would mislead the Home Office when seeking to determine his prospective client’s claim for asylum due to the basis on which it would be put”.

It went on: “Mr Lingajothy knew this to be the position as he explicitly outlined the backstory which would need to be told to firstly remove the prospective client from the small boats group and then to provide the strongest likelihood of this bogus claim for asylum being accepted. Mr Lingajothy’s conduct was dishonest.”

SRA chair Anna Bradley has also responded to the letter Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk sent last week about its work on immigration services.

She said the SRA was “shocked by the apparent behaviour of those solicitors identified by the Daily Mail” and outlined the action it had taken after obtaining the recordings and transcripts from the newspaper.

Mr Chalk called on the SRA to undertake a “targeted follow-up” to the thematic review of immigration work it conducted last year “as soon as possible”.

Ms Bradley reported that, since the review was published, two solicitors have been struck off for failure to carry out their immigration duties properly.

Alongside the review, the SRA published guidance on in immigration work and on effective supervision. The regulator will shortly begin “a wider inspection of the immigration sector, looking at compliance with our new guidance”.

Further, it will be “expanding and promoting the information on our rules and best practice we have available to law firms”, including new guidance that will take account of the issues raised by the Daily Mail investigation, as well as publishing new information, tailored to asylum seekers and interpreters, on the public-facing cross-regulator Legal Choices website.

Ms Bradley also used the opportunity to renew the SRA’s longstanding call for unlimited fining powers. “As I am sure you will agree, due process must be followed and fairness for all involved is paramount. In our experience this can take time, sometimes too long.

“This is important, because in an effective regulatory system the consequences for aberrant behaviour should flow quickly after the event, to deliver a suitable deterrent for others who may be involved in similar practises.”

While the “most serious examples of misconduct” should be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), unlimited fining powers would “create that deterrent more quickly”.

Last year, the Ministry of Justice approved an increase in the SRA’s fining powers from £2,000 to £25,000 but the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill currently going through Parliament provides for unlimited fines in cases of economic crime.

“We would ask again that this power be given to the SRA in all cases of serious misconduct. While individual solicitors should face the SDT for serious wrongdoing (and in appropriate cases forfeit their right to practise), that does not preclude the SRA from also fining them and their firm.

“This process could run in parallel with proceedings at the SDT and would deliver an obvious and immediate incentive for the proper running of the firm, a consequence for all partners of the firm and a clear motivation for the firm to “self-regulate” or face the significant financial consequences.

“I have no doubt, that this would provide a swifter deterrent and change behaviour. However, in order to do so, the financial penalty must be much more significant than we can presently prescribe.”

Mr Chalk tweeted: “I welcome this swift initial action by @sra_solicitors. The independent investigative process must now be allowed to take its course. Those found to have undermined the high professional standards of the overwhelming majority should expect a robust response.”

Home secretary Suella Braverman added: “Immigration lawyers who cheat and lie are taking the British public for a ride. Good to see this quick action by the SRA after the @mailonline investigation. I hope it continues.”

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