The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has today ratcheted up the pressure on immigration firms, with a warning notice reminding them not to be “complicit in providing false or fabricated” information.
It follows the regulator’s closure of three immigration firms in July in the wake of a Daily Mail investigation claiming they offered to help an undercover reporter concoct a story to support an asylum claim.
Chief executive Paul Philip told a media briefing yesterday that the regulator was “still in discussions with the Home Office” over information sharing as part of the professional enablers taskforce announced last month.
Mr Philip described the latest meeting of the taskforce, which included the Immigration Services Commissioner and Lord Chancellor, as a “fairly cordial meeting”.
He added that the regulator would not get involved in debates about “lefty” immigration lawyers. Whether the problems reported by the Daily Mail were widespread or not was “speculation”, he said.
The regulator published a thematic review of immigration law last November, which resulted in 10 of the 40 firms spoken to being referred for possible disciplinary action. However, it has since emerged that no reportable action was taken against any of them.
In the warning notice, the SRA said: “Based on examples that we have seen, and that have been reported in the press, we are concerned about solicitors potentially advising clients or prospective clients to falsify or fabricate information to support Home Office applications for asylum or leave to remain.
“Over a period of time we have also identified risks around solicitors producing poorly drafted applications, or advising their clients to pursue totally without merit appeals of Home Office decisions through the courts.
“Applying to appeal decisions where the case is without merit and bound to fail abuses the courts system, and does not uphold the rule of law.”
The SRA said solicitors should advise their immigration clients to “make an honest account” of their circumstances in any application to the Home Office or courts.
“You must not be complicit in providing a false or fabricated account or generating ‘evidence’ to support a false or fabricated account. We expect you to challenge your client should they suggest falsifying or fabricating their account or information to support their application.
“Where you have reason to doubt it, you should take steps to assure yourself about the authenticity of your client’s account and evidence they provide in support.”
Solicitors should provide clients with “a realistic assessment of the prospect of success of their case based on their circumstances”, and make sure the client “fully understands the strengths and merits” of the case.
“You should not charge fees to make applications that have no realistic prospect of success.”
Following the Daily Mail reports in the summer, the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, said he was “appalled” by what he had read and called on the SRA to carry out a “targeted follow-up” to last year’s thematic review.
Mr Philiip said the SRA would begin a “thematic inspection” of immigration firms in the coming weeks.