The government is calling for the Solicitors Regulation Authority to use the “full force of sanctions” following reports of lawyers allegedly offering to help people make false asylum claims.
The Daily Mail reported numerous solicitors agreed to help an undercover reporter posing as an economic migrant submit a false asylum application in exchange for thousands of pounds.
The SRA is an independent regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales. Its rules prevent lawyers from misleading courts, and acting dishonestly or with a lack of integrity could see someone struck off.
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Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has written to the SRA and has also called for a follow-up to the review the body carried out on immigration advice last year – highlighting the importance of “ensuring public confidence in our immigration system”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “While the vast majority of lawyers take their professional responsibilities seriously, these allegations of exploitation and unscrupulous practice brought to light by the Mail are truly shocking and it is vital that those found to be abusing their position face the full consequences of their actions.
“I am determined to rebuild the public’s confidence that it is their country and their government who should decide who comes here, not people looking to profit from undermining our laws.
“That’s why this government will continue to strain every sinew to end the abuse of our system and stop the boats.”
In his letter to the SRA, Mr Chalk said: “I would strongly encourage you to use the full force of sanctions available to you against solicitors where there is a finding of a breach.
“Solicitors are critical to the operation of a fair immigration system. I know that the overwhelming majority take their professional duties and obligations extremely seriously.
“However, any examples of practices which fall short of the high ethical standards we expect of solicitors risk serious disruption to the immigration system, tarnishing the reputation of those working in this area, and critically undermining public confidence.”
On the review, he added: “Ensuring public confidence in our immigration system is a top priority for the government. I was therefore appalled to read recent examples in the media of apparent abuse of the system by individuals relied upon to give legal advice.
“In light of these recent allegations, I would urge you to undertake a targeted follow-up to last year’s thematic review as soon as possible.”
The SRA’s immigration and asylum thematic review found the overall quality was satisfactory and there were no widespread or systemic failings or issues with quality.
However, there were areas for improvement, such as evidence of supervision and reporting of misconduct.