Attorney General's job in balance after £5,000 fine

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Attorney General Baroness Scotland's job was hanging in the balance tonight after she was fined £5,000 for employing an illegal worker as a housekeeper.

Despite issuing a grovelling apology and receiving backing from Gordon Brown, the peer risked inflaming the row further by comparing her mistake to forgetting to pay the congestion charge in London.

Political opponents branded her "breathtakingly complacent" and accused the Prime Minister of "dithering" over sacking her.

The UK Border Agency launched a probe after it emerged that a Tongan citizen paid by Lady Scotland to look after her west London home had overstayed her student visa.

This morning, chief executive Lin Homer accepted that the peer had not "knowingly" employed an illegal worker, and "took steps" to check documents for 27-year-old Loloahi Tapui.

"However, the law requires that employers must keep copies of documents proving the right to work in the UK and in this instance the employer failed to meet this requirement," she added.

Lady Scotland, the Government's top legal officer, said she "fully accepted" the findings.

"It's like driving into the City and not paying the congestion charge. It's not a criminal offence," she told Sky News.

"I made an administrative, technical error for which I am bitterly, bitterly, sorry. I will never fail to take a photocopy again. I got it wrong. It was a technical breach and I have paid the penalty."

Aides insisted Lady Scotland had not been downplaying the importance of the mistake but had merely been highlighting the difference between a criminal and civil offence.

But the remarks risked undermining efforts by Mr Brown to draw a line under the damaging episode.

Shortly before, the premier, en route to the US for the crunch G20 summit, had released a statement saying: "In line with the Ministerial Code I have consulted the Cabinet Secretary and, given the UK Border Agency is satisfied she did not knowingly employ an illegal worker and took steps to check the documents, I have concluded that no further action is necessary given the investigation and action that has already been taken by the appropriate authorities and her unreserved apology."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "There is a breathtaking culture of complacency at the heart of this Government.

"You don't get a £5,000 fine for not paying the congestion charge. Her comments underline how bad Gordon Brown's judgment has been in giving her his full backing."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne also called for Lady Scotland to go: "Law makers should not be law breakers, and this applies even more to Baroness Scotland due to her special position as chief law officer.

"Her position now looks untenable."