The Bar Council has accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of undermining trust in the profession by claiming that a “subset of lawyers” are exploiting illegal migrants for profit.
Mr Sunak made the comments in the wake of a Daily Mail investigation that claimed lawyers at three London law firms offered to help an undercover reporter concoct a story to support an asylum claim.
One of the firms told Legal Futures that it was considering legal action against the newspaper.
In a message on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Sunak wrote: “The Labour Party, a subset of lawyers, criminal gangs – they’re all on the same side, propping up a system of exploitation that profits from getting people to the UK illegally.”
In response, Bar Council vice-chair Sam Townend KC said: “Lawyers are not beyond reproach, and all professions have individuals who commit misconduct and are dishonest. Regulators are there to discipline them.
“The comments by the prime minister, however, are clearly an attempt to play politics with the legal profession. This damaging rhetoric undermines the rule of law, trust in lawyers and confidence in the UK legal system and is to be deplored.”
Mr Townend and the Bar Council have in turn been attacked in the Daily Mail today for these remarks. The Law Society has not issued a comment as yet.
Mr Sunak’s tweet was echoed by home secretary Suella Braverman, who said she was “appalled” by what the newspaper had uncovered. “I expect the authorities to track down & punish any lawyers or firms found to be engaging in these kinds of practices.”
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick added: “These individuals have no place in the legal profession. Swift action must be taken to remove from the roll all those who so egregiously abuse our laws.”
Labour pushed back strongly against Mr Suank’s allegation against the party, with shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock describing it as “desperate stuff from a desperate PM out of ideas”.
He continued: “Labour has called for Solicitors Regulation Authority to launch an urgent inquiry into these despicable rogue lawyers.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips wrote: “Do you know what made rogue immigration advisers rise up? It was the massive reduction in access to justice, law centres & advice services across the country.”
The SRA said: “We’re aware of the recent story in the Daily Mail. If we find evidence that solicitors or firms we regulate have acted in ways that contravene our rules, and in particular their duty to act legally and uphold the law, we can and will take action.”
The article said VP Lingajothy of south London firm Duncan Ellis Solicitors provided an “entirely fictional story involving torture, beatings, slave labour, false imprisonment and death threats that he would use for an asylum and human rights claim – in return for a fee of £10,000”.
He was also accused of giving the would-be client a packet of anti-depressant pills to hand to the Home Office as supposed evidence of mental trauma.
The paper reported that Mr Lingajothy – who it said was an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives – later denied creating any false stories “and appeared to claim his actions were due to confusing our undercover reporter with another client”.
It quoted Duncan Ellis owner Anbananden Sooben saying that Mr Lingajothy was unsupervised when he met the reporters because a solicitor was not “present nor informed about the consultation”.
He added: “The behaviours exhibited by Mr Lingajothy, as recorded in your investigation, are completely contrary to the principles and values of our firm and contrary to the law of the country and SRA rules.”
Mr Sooben said his firm upheld the “highest ethical and professional standards”, took the allegations “extremely seriously”, had sacked Mr Lingajothy and reported the matter to the SRA as well as “conducting a thorough internal investigation”.
The second of the lawyers named, Rashid Khan of Rashid & Rashid in south London, was said to have urged the reporter to come up with a political problem to support for his asylum claim.
In a statement to Legal Futures, Mr Khan said: “The Daily Mail together with certain journalists conspired to obtain two free consultations from me/my firm, falsely declaring that they were in need of legal advice regarding an immigration issue that it turns out did not exist.
“They presented an individual at two appointments who proceeded to give a dishonest account of their circumstances.
“I vehemently reject the allegations made by the Daily Mail. The newspaper chose to publish two small excerpts from the interviews when the full interviews would have put my comments in context.
“Notwithstanding the falsity of the allegations, I have already as a matter of precaution reported the matter to the SRA and will of course co-operate with any investigation they may undertake.
“I am in the process of taking advice with a view to commencing civil proceedings against the newspaper.”
The other lawyer named was Malik Nazar Hayat of West London practice Lincoln Lawrence. We have approached him for comment.
In a follow-up story today, the Daily Mail accused Muhammad Azfar Ahmad, director of Kingswright Solicitors in Birmingham, of suggesting that the client would be best off either living with or even better marrying someone with settled status in the UK.
Asked if he knew a matchmaker, it said he suggested a Punjabi couple in Walsall with two daughters who were his clients and said he could get their number.
Kingswright Solicitors told the newspaper: “We entirely refute the allegations. However, we have commenced an internal investigation concerning the same. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”