'We will punish and disgrace rogue lawyers who help small boat migrants lie to stay in UK', justice secretary vows

8 August 2023, 08:59

'Crooked' lawyers for migrants will face life in prison
'Crooked' lawyers for migrants will face life in prison. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Will Taylor

A new task force to catch professionals who coach illegal migrants so they can stay in the UK will take down "rogue lawyers", the justice secretary has said.

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The government has set up a unit to pursue "conmen" lawyers who set out to game the immigration system in return for money.

The Home Office said the group would include regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and other Government departments, who would find and prosecute the lawyers.

"It's really intended to massively step up our ability to bring rogue lawyers to account," Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

"I want to stress this is a tiny minority - the overwhelming majority do an extremely important job and they're an asset of which this nation should be proud.

"But those that don't and behave illegally, cause disproportionate harm, both to the reputation of the law but perhaps more importantly because it means that people who have no right to be in this country, and who by the way might be a threat to this country, nonetheless remain.

"So what we're doing is ensuring Home Office lawyers are better trained to identify evidence of fraud, second, report it to the right agency... and third, that they help to prepare and provide the really compelling evidence that's required to ensure that people are convicted, punished and disgraced for this offending."

These lawyers would be charged with "assisting unlawful immigration to the UK".

But the Law Society, a trade association that represents solicitors, said the number of "crooked" lawyers was tiny, and the government already had powers to deal with them.

Read more: Charity lawyers ‘block’ transfer of 20 migrants onto Bibby Stockholm as barge labelled ‘inhumane’ amid first boarding

Read more: First 15 migrants board Bibby Stockholm: Flanked by police single men move onto the controversial barge

People arrive by coach to board the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset
People arrive by coach to board the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. Picture: Alamy

It comes as the first group of migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge on Monday. Around 20 more were blocked from going on the boat by lawyers for the charity Care4Calais, who claimed the conditions were inhumane for their clients. There is no suggestion any of these lawyers are being targeted by the taskforce.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, speaking about the taskforce, said: "Crooked immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice.

"While the majority of lawyers act with integrity - we know that some are lying to help illegal migrants game the system. It is not right or fair on those who play by the rules.

"The British people want us to put an end to illegal migration - I am determined to crack down on these immoral lawyers and stop the boats."

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman. Picture: Alamy

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Ms Braverman said: "These conmen make it far harder to remove people who have no right to be here - and they must face the full force of the law.

"I want to see the worst offenders in jail and we have the laws in place to bring them to justice.

"I know our teams are working incredibly hard to root out those who game our asylum system and cheat the British public - this can't go on."

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But Richard Atkinson, deputy vice president of the Law Society, said: "This 'task force' has been around for months now, so it is not clear what, if anything, the Government is announcing today."

He added: "The Government, regulators and law enforcement agencies already have the powers they need to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.

"The overwhelming majority of immigration lawyers continue to support the rule of law through their adherence to the law and professional standards set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and provide an essential service to clients.

Caller: "I've not heard one migrant saying there's a problem living on a barge."

"The focus of the Home Office on a tiny minority of lawyers to which they are apparently applying considerable resources should not deflect from the fact that there remains significant backlogs in asylum claims or the unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act."

Bar Council chairman Nick Vineall KC said lawyers must observe ethical and conduct rules which apply to them while advising and representing their clients, with appropriate sanctions if they breach them.

He said: "The task force must not fall into the trap of identifying lawyers with the causes of their clients, nor should it assume that misbehaviour by clients amounts to misbehaviour by lawyers."

Labour's shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said it was "too little too late" and the "buck stops" with the Conservatives, accusing them of having "sat idly by for 13 years while illegal migration has spun out of control".

He said: "Now, weak as ever, they are setting up a talking shop instead of cracking down on those who abuse our immigration system."