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Sir Brian Leveson admonishes immigration solicitors


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The latest in the increasingly long line of cases in which the judiciary has administered public dressings down for immigration lawyers is R (On the Application Of Akram & Anor) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2015] EWHC 1359 (Admin). The cases are often referred to as Hamid cases, after the first such case, Hamid [2012] EWCA 3070 (Admin).

Sir Brian starts this latest judgment with a general warning or principle:

There is a pressing need for legal representatives acting for claimants in judicial review proceedings to do so in a professional manner both towards their clients but also towards the Court, bearing in mind that the paramount duty of all legal representatives acting in proceedings before courts is to the Court itself. The need for this warning to be taken seriously increases as the resources available to the Courts to act efficiently and fairly decreases. If the time of the Court and its resources are absorbed dealing with utterly hopeless and/or unprofessionally prepared cases, then other cases, that are properly advanced and properly prepared, risk not having devoted to them the resources that they deserve.

…what has happened in these cases follows what has become an all too familiar and depressing pattern in which the legal representatives demonstrate a remarkable lack of knowledge and/or regard for the substantive and procedural rules governing claims for judicial review.

The case had earlier been refused permission and described by Mr Justice Jay as “a complete shambles”, who ordered a Hamid hearing.

In this case the judgment records that two brothers were represented by solicitors Rashid and Rashid Solicitors, said to be initially of 21-23 Tooting High Street, London but at the time of judgment of 190 Merton High Street, South Wimbledon, London. The judgment is critical of the firm and the possible lack of immigration law training by the caseworker who made the application in question is one of the issues identified. The principal, Mr Rashid, accepted that the application to court were “badly drafted and failed to identify the relevant principles”.

Sir Brian also expresses in the judgment wider concerns about the vulnerability of clients in immigration law. In this case £5,000 was thought to have been paid for the application and the services of “experienced counsel” had been offered but not delivered, according to a letter received by the court directly from the claimants themselves. On this Sir Brian says

29. Prima facie the relationship between a solicitor and client is governed by contract and not something with which the Court will ordinarily intervene. However, in circumstances such as have arisen in this case, there is clear concern (I say no more than “concern” on the basis that this court is not in a position to make a finding of fact) that legal representatives may be incentivised to use and abuse the processes of the Court for personal gain. As such, in principle, even relations between solicitor and client can be such as to fall within the legitimate concern of the Court in the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction to govern conduct before it.

30. Persons seeking to avoid being removed from the jurisdiction in the position of the Akram brothers are frequently extremely vulnerable. They are subject to the rigours of the immigration system. They may well be in detention facing imminent removal. If not in detention, they may be destitute and unable to work. They are likely to be desperate. They are thereby at risk of being easy prey to those who would extract fees upon the promise of experienced counsel being instructed to fight the case vigorously. When (or if) they discover they have been misled, it may be too late and they may well have long departed these shores, often through coercive removal. In the present case, the removal date of the Akram brothers was in March of this year. It may be a statement of the obvious, but they would not, in such circumstances, be around to challenge the solicitors or seek repayment of fees or make their own complaints to the SRA, although in this case, because of the analysis of the case provided by Jay J, they have done so.

The SRA is already said to be investigating the case. The judgment ends with an order that the judgment and documents be passed to the SRA. Counsel for Rashid and Rashid had declined to hand a copy of the skeleton argument to a member of the press at court so the court ordered a copy be made available from its own file. The case has been reported elsewhere, including on Legal Futures and Al’s Law.

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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.