Author: TOM WITHEROW FOR THE DAILY MAIL
Legal watchdogs are ‘overwhelmed’ with cases of crooked solicitors trying to keep illegal migrants in the UK, a former judge has claimed.
James Hanratty, an immigration judge for 16 years, said small legal firms that help ‘liars and chancers’ get into Britain are running rings around regulators.
He said it was ‘disgraceful’ that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has in the past taken no action when legal professionals broke the law.
He highlighted a case before him where a lawyer made a false statement for a Somali woman who claimed her life was in danger because she was from a minority clan.
She said her husband had been murdered by a warlord at their home – even though her spouse had come to England 18 months earlier to claim asylum himself.
Mr Hanratty said the solicitors acting for the woman had also represented her husband, so they knew her story was not true and had therefore assisted in making a false statement.
The judge reported the firm for perverting the course of justice, but he claimed the regulator took no action because it was ‘too busy’.
He added: ‘I think the… enforcement teams are overwhelmed by these cases.’ Mr Hanratty, who was also chief executive at the Royal Courts of Justice, was speaking at Henley Literary Festival on Monday to promote his book, The Making of an Immigration Judge.
He said: ‘I had a case where a lady from Somalia came before me and her story was that she had found her husband on the doorstep of their house with his throat cut by the local warlord – so she had to flee to England.
‘The Home Office barrister asked her to explain how this happened.
‘He then said there seems to be a problem here as your husband came over to England 18 months ago and claimed asylum and you’re saying he’s dead on the doorstep in Mogadishu.
‘There was a stunned silence but she had no answer and shouted at me. Then I found out that the solicitors acted for both the husband and for her, and so they knew that the statement they had prepared for her was rubbish.
‘I reported it and the regulator unbelievably took no action saying that there was no damage to the public and “we’re very busy”. This was five years ago.’ He said smaller law firms acting in migration cases can be difficult to track because, when they are at risk of investigation, they ‘close down and operate again five doors down under a different name’.
The SRA, part of the Law Society Group, regulates more than 180,000 solicitors in England and Wales and receives 10,000 reports of code breaches each year.
It said cases involving migration solicitors are a ‘big issue’ for the regulator.
A spokesman added that the SRA does not have a record of Mr Hanratty’s report, but cases involving criminal activity will be referred to the police.
An immigration solicitor forged almost 200 visa applications by using details from genuine claimants for bogus clients.
Osman Sadiq, 30, copied details from legitimate applications under a law allowing foreign nationals to remain in the UK to act as carers to British citizens.
He charged up to £2,700 to ‘piggy-back’ them on to bogus applications, without telling the British sponsor.
Sadiq, a director at a solicitors firm in east London, admitted 12 counts of ‘using a false instrument’ to make up applications in the ‘deliberate and calculated’ scheme and was jailed for four years at Snaresbrook Crown Court in 2015.
In another case a lawyer made an immigration application knowing his client could be lying. Mansoor Ali, 39, proceeded with an appeal to remain in the UK despite the Pakistani client telling him he had been cheating the system for years.
By the time the appeal was rejected the man had been in the UK for nine years.
Ali, a partner in a Manchester law firm, was suspended indefinitely in June 2017 after a tribunal heard he had even noted the client’s confession in his file notes.