An immigration lawyer has been struck off after being caught on camera four years ago advising an undercover reporter about a sham marriage.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal made the decision in the case of Syed Mazaher Naqvi, a sole practitioner based in London. The tribunal found that Naqvi had failed to advise the “client” that applying for a spouse visa on the basis of a fake relationship was unlawful, asked not to be told if the relationship wasn’t genuine, and advised on the visa even after he know that it was a sham.
As to why it has taken these cases four years to reach a disciplinary tribunal, the judgment records that the Solicitors Regulation Authority initially “closed the matter” and only requested the unedited footage from the production company two years later.
The transcript includes discussions like this about a sham marriage:
Naqvi: It is possible but depends on your own ties.
Reporter: Mmm. If I, I mean, if it is not obviously a genuine relationship, it is not, I mean, if I find someone – a girl, who is willing to arrange it with me
N: You will come to us and say: We are doing this marriage; these are our details and –
R: [Urdu] that’s the arrangement [Urdu]
N: [Urdu], we will proceed with that
R: […] Because it is not a genuine relationship in any case.
N: Then don’t tell me. I don’t know that.
N: As far as I am concerned, you will bring evidence and give it to me –
R: Right, right, right.
N: Whether it is genuine or not, I don’t know that. Whoever comes to me is a genuine man giving me authority to certify the papers to proceed the application.
N: I don’t know if one is genuine or not.
The pair later discuss falsifying “joint living proofs”, or evidence that the couple live together, and the ideal nationality of the sham bride.
Counsel for Naqvi argued that the prosecution was an abuse of process, saying that it would be a “quantum leap” for a solicitor to be punished “on the basis of evidence from a single source”. Naqvi was said to have been entrapped; the incriminating video had been edited; and anyway he thought the discussion was about an arranged marriage, not a sham.
The tribunal held that journalists were not agents of the state, so Naqvi was not assisted by entrapment arguments. As to the video recordings:
The suggestion of deliberate manipulation of the transcript and/or the audio and video material, if that was what was being suggested, was not supported by any evidence and was no more than assertion and speculation on the part of the Respondent.
Having refused to throw the evidence out as an abuse of process, the tribunal was quick to find the various allegations proven. The panel noted that it was “abundantly clear that Client A was referring to a relationship that would not be genuine”.
In considering the appropriate punishment, the tribunal pointed out that
The damage to the reputation of the profession was huge. This matter had been broadcast on national television, which would have a significant impact on the public perception of the profession.
It also said that “clients in that area of law were often desperate and vulnerable”.
The involvement of an undercover reporter was not a mitigating factor or proof of exceptional circumstances, merely an “interesting aspect of the background”.
The tribunal ordered that Naqvi be struck off and pay £25,000 in costs. [Update 2 July 2019: a revised version of the judgment states that it is now under appeal to the High Court.]
In other regulatory news, a Nottingham man who hung around community centres offering unqualified legal advice has been sentenced to eight months imprisonment. Eugene Byass, 49, was also ordered to pay back the £11,000 he took from victims, according to the Office of the Information Services Commissioner.