Law: Move to curb immigration advisers irks Law Society

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Home Office has unveiled plans to stop bogus immigration advisers ripping people off. But, as Michael Streeter says, Jack Straw's attack on immigration lawyers has sparked a row with the Law Society.

The aim of the consultation document in curbing the bogus advisers who charge hundreds of pounds for wrong or fraudulent advice was welcomed yesterday. The actions of what Mr Straw described as racketeers not only rip off vulnerable immigrants but also clog up the overloaded immigration process. Future bogus operators could face jail.

But remarks by the Home Secretary that appeared to single out immigration lawyers for criticism infuriated the Law Society, which accused him of needless lawyer-bashing and of distracting attention from the real culprits - the unqualified "advisers". Mr Straw said when hundreds of Czech and Slovak asylum-seekers arrived in Dover last year a firm of London solicitors travelled to the town and started "dishing out" legal-aid forms to claimants.

He also accused lawyers of "milking" the legal-aid cases, which had to be paid for again by the taxpayer when the Government-funded Immigration Advisory Service took over cases that go to tribunals.

The consultation document - "Control of Unscrupulous Immigration Advisers" - also refers to 38 firms of solicitors among 250 groups offering advice which give "cause for concern". Mr Straw described Law Society controls in this area as unsatisfactory.

A Law Society spokesman said his attack was "bonkers" and said they had been at the forefront of trying to stamp out bogus advisers. For two years they had asked for the names of the dubious lawyers concerned - but had never been given a name. Nor could the Home Office name the firm which allegedly went to Dover.

According to the paper, ministers favour a statutory regulatory body which would oversee a group of accredited advisory groups.

Anyone charging for advice without a licence would face a large fine or possibly jail and the body would be self-funded by membership fees.

Mr Straw said there was a case for lawyers to be included under the system.

Current abuses by advisers include charging large fees - up to pounds 6,000, though typically pounds 500 - for wrong advice, telling applicants to lie on official forms, losing documents and passports, intimidation, theft and even sexual assault of applicants.

In one example sorted out by Bernie Grant MP a Jamaican woman paid pounds 1,000 to a self-appointed adviser who told her to apply for political asylum. In fact the woman, who had learning difficulties, had a good case on compassionate grounds to be re-united with her family. It later emerged that her adviser had criminal convictions - and was later jailed here for rape. Mr Grant welcomed news of the consultation.

However, there is concern among MPs and pressure groups that the matter will not become law until the next parliamentary session at the earliest.