The government has announced a new “task force” to identify unscrupulous lawyers after reportedly filing false asylum claims for a fee.
The Home Office said the unit will bring together regulators, law enforcement and other government departments to crack down on lawyers found to be deceiving the courts.
This comes after the Daily Mail reported that several lawyers had agreed to help an undercover journalist posing as an economic migrant file a bogus application in exchange for thousands of pounds.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) prohibits solicitors from deceiving courts, and any act of dishonesty or lack of integrity can result in their being disfellowshipped.
Fraudulent immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice.
But the Law Society, which represents lawyers in England and Wales, said the necessary powers are already in place to tackle misconduct by immigration advisers.
It added the Home Office was focusing on a “tiny minority of lawyers” rather than “significant” backlogs on asylum applications and “the unenforceability of the illegal migration law”.
The Home Office said the Professional Enablers Taskforce, for which there is no new funding, has been conducting preliminary work in recent months.
That included developing a new training package for frontline staff working in the immigration system to help them identify and report suspicious activity, according to the department.
The Ministry of the Interior said that the police were also informed if criminal activities were suspected.
The announcement came after the first 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge and others were granted a last-minute stay after a series of legal challenges.
Conservative Party Deputy Leader Lee Anderson is reported to have said asylum seekers who complain about the barge moored off the Dorset coast should “fuck you back to France”.
Interior Secretary Suella Braverman said of the task force: “Criminal immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice.”
“While the majority of lawyers act with integrity, we know some lie to help illegal immigrants trick the system. It is neither right nor fair to those who follow the rules.
“The British people want us to put an end to illegal migration – I am determined to take action against these immoral lawyers and stop the boats.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Ms Braverman said: “These scammers make it that much harder to remove people who have no right to be here – and they have to face the full rigors of the law.”
“I want to see the worst offenders in prison and we have the laws to bring them to justice.
“I know our teams are working incredibly hard to root out those who are manipulating our asylum system and defrauding the British public – this cannot go on.”
Attorney General Alex Chalk said: “The accuracy and honesty of legal advice underpins the integrity of our world-leading legal system, so those who undermine it by encouraging deception must be held accountable.”
“This government is determined to stop the boats — that means disrupting the business model of criminal gangs and holding accountable the unscrupulous lawyers who support and abet them through abuse of the legal system.”
But Richard Atkinson, associate vice president of the Law Society, said: “This ‘task force’ has been in place for months so it is not clear what, if anything, the government is announcing today.”
He added: “Government, regulators and law enforcement already have the powers they need to take action against misconduct by immigration advisers.
“The overwhelming majority of immigration attorneys continue to support the rule of law by adhering to the laws and professional standards set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and providing an essential service to their clients.
“The Home Office’s focus on a tiny minority of lawyers, on whom it appears to devote significant resources, should not distract from the fact that there remain significant backlogs of asylum applications or the unenforceability of the Illegal Migration Act.”
Now, weak as ever, instead of cracking down on those who abuse our immigration system, they are starting a discussion board.
Bar Council Chairman Nick Vineall KC said lawyers must adhere to the rules of ethics and conduct that apply to them when advising and representing their clients, and impose appropriate sanctions for violations.
He said: “The task force must not fall into the trap of equating attorneys with the concerns of their clients, nor should it assume that client misconduct equals attorney misconduct.”
For Labour, Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed said it was “too little, too late” and “the money is stuck with the Conservatives” and accused them of “13 years of sitting idly by while illegal migration spiraled out of control”.
He said: “Now, weak as ever, instead of cracking down on those who abuse our immigration system, start a discussion group.”
The first asylum seekers arrived in Portland on Monday on the Bibby Stockholm barge. According to the Interior Ministry, people are expected to be housed there for three to nine months.
Cheryl Avery, the Home Office’s head of asylum accommodation, confirmed 15 people were brought onto the ship as part of the government’s attempt to cut hotel costs by finding other accommodation, which includes former military bases.
Care4Calais said about 20 asylum seekers did not board the barge as planned because their transfers were “cancelled” after lawyers challenged the decisions.
Mr Anderson, Conservative MP, told Express.co.uk of those who complained about the accommodation: “If they don’t like barges, they should damn go back to France.”
He added: “I think people just have enough.
“These people come across the English Channel in small boats. If they don’t like the conditions in which they are being housed here, they should go back to France, or better yet, not come at all.”
Former shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, currently an Independent MP, wrote on Twitter: “A new low even for the Tories.”
Official figures released on Monday confirmed that the number of migrants staying in hotels has passed the 50,000 mark.
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/lee-anderson-suella-braverman-law-society-home-office-government-b1099232.html Suella Braverman says task force will target ‘crooked immigration lawyers’