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Journalists perform a public service in exposing dodgy lawyers. But…


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I was away on holiday when the Daily Mail published its article with allegations of serious misconduct by immigration solicitors. It is a shocking article and accompanying video. The Solicitors Regulation Authority agrees and has intervened at three of the four named firms, closing them down for further investigation.

You can watch the video yourself here:

I’ve no love for the Daily Mail but I recognise that the newspaper has performed a public service in carrying out and publishing its investigation. The reality is that the legal regulators are just not able to carry out this kind of sting. They do not have the resources or initiative. Their task is a different one: to regulate the system as a whole and to reduce the risk to the public of receiving bad legal advice. They can punish after the event but they just aren’t really set up to identify determined and recalcitrant bad actors.

The police can potentially perform this sort of operation. But it is unlikely they ever would, at least without evidence that it was already a large scale problem. The police are already massively overstretched and cannot be expected to undertake speculative fishing expeditions of this nature. 

There’s an argument to be had about whether the legal regulators ought to change their approach, or be granted further powers or resources. Again, it is hard to justify this when there is no evidence there is a large scale problem. Bigger fines are unlikely to help at all. And I’m pretty sure that Suella Braverman summoning legal regulators for a roundtable photo opportunity will achieve nothing. The ‘professional enablers taskforce’ doesn’t seem like a bad idea but it’s hard to see it having much of an impact. Given it was set up months ago, the re-announcement was obviously entirely political.

The codes of conduct already require us lawyers to report misconduct by our colleagues, although it’s not clear what might happen when we do. It might come down to one person’s word — hearsay word at that — against another’s.

So it may well continue to come down to journalists carrying out these sorts of stings.


The Daily Mail, certain other newspapers and the government are making two distinct criticisms of immigration lawyers and it is all too easy for these to be conflated. Indeed, it seems likely that these newspapers and the government want the lines of attack to blur.

One line of criticism is the legitimate one we see at the heart of that Daily Mail article. Dishonest conduct and coaching by immigration lawyers is disgraceful if proven. And, perhaps even worse, some lawyers were reported yesterday to have been convicted of assisting unlawful immigration.

The Mail article seems to go too far, though. It alleges “widespread and blatant abuse of the rules by lawyers and legal representatives at registered solicitors’ firms”. Four lawyers are singled out and one of them doesn’t really seem to do anything wrong in the video. He just explains how the Refugee Convention works and the five convention reasons. Some of the others gave rebuttals to the newspaper you can read there for yourself.

The Mail seems to have approached other firms as well but there are no specific allegations made. Maybe they uncovered more evidence that is so far unpublished, but the video itself does not seem to justify these statements.

The Mail alleged that “up to 40 solicitors’ firms are being monitored by the authorities amid suspected asylum claim ‘abuses’ and allegations of ‘carbon copy’ applications from different people represented by the same firms.” This looks sourced from the government. Maybe lots of firms are being “monitored”, whatever that means. It seems inherently unlikely that abuse on that scale is actually occurring, though.

In a remarkably similar vein, the Telegraph reported yesterday that the Home Office has “identified dozens of lawyers it believes have been helping illegal migrants remain in the UK by encouraging and coaching them how to make false claims and in some cases submitting fake applications themselves”. The newspaper goes on to say that five lawyers were convicted last year of assisting unlawful immigration under the Immigration Act 1971 and a further seven were convicted the year before.

This is news to me; I had not heard of these convictions before. But I think the Telegraph is misreporting convictions under section 91 of the 1999 Act for breaching the OISC regulatory scheme (maximum sentence of two years) with convictions under section 25 of the 1971 Act for assisting unlawful immigration (maximum sentence of life imprisonment).

As an aside, it would be interesting to know why the Daily Mail visited these particular firms and from whom they received tip offs. Was it the Home Office or someone at the Home Office? Or migrants or members of the public? Or someone at a legal regulator? Joshua Rozenberg speculates on his Substack that it may have been a government tip off.

The other line of criticism we see far more often is not legitimate. Immigration lawyers are repeatedly and vociferously attacked for doing our jobs. Our critics don’t like migrants and don’t like the law. We are attacked as a proxy for both. This is disgraceful conduct and it happens over and over again.

We saw a particularly blatant and appalling example of it just this week. The Conservative Party compiled a partial dossier on the work done by the excellent and inspiring Jacqueline McKenzie and then sent it to select journalists, clearly in the expectation they would then publicly attack her and the Labour Party.

One would hope that the Lord Chancellor will have words with his colleagues. After his endorsement this week of Lee Anderson’s foul mouthed attack on refugees followed by his irony-free criticism of (other) lawyers for being too political, I doubt it.

Political attacks may lead to physical attacks. In 2020 a violent attack occurred at the offices of Duncan Lewis solicitors. The trial of the man alleged to be responsible remains ongoing.

Someone was hurt then, as I understand it. Others of us will be hurt in future if this carries on.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.