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Immigration solicitor fined £10,000 for signing off “grossly misleading and inaccurate” court documents

Immigration solicitor fined £10,000 for signing off “grossly misleading and inaccurate” court documents

The Solicitor Disciplinary Tribunal has fined an immigration solicitor £10,000 for signing off “grossly misleading and inaccurate” statements of truth for judicial review applications. The solicitor concerned, Achyuth Rajagopal of G Singh Solicitors in London, admitted acting recklessly and in a manner apt to mislead the tribunal and failing adequately to supervise the work of the paralegal employee who prepared the applications.

The paralegal was not named and had left the firm immediately after the behaviour came to light.

Essentially, the unsupervised paralegal was using totally templated judicial review applications irrespective of the facts of the cases. Nine cases were uncovered by the Government Legal Department and the firm admitted that the same had occurred in other cases as well. In all these cases Mr Rajagopal had signed statements of truth that were untrue. Although he did not know the statements were untrue because he had not read them, the tribunal notes rather drily:

A solicitor in the Respondent’s position should read important documents before signing them, rather than relying on an unadmitted fee-earner, even one with some experience of relevant cases.

The behaviour was exposed and referred to the Solicitor Regulation Authority by the Upper Tribunal in the case of R (on the application of Okondu & Anor) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (wasted costs; SRA referrals; Hamid) IJR [2014] UKUT 377 (IAC); it seems to have taken over two years for the matter to be investigated and decided by the SRA. The case was written up on Free Movement earlier in the context of wasted costs powers: Awards of costs in immigration tribunal appeals. Other similar cases can be found here.

The tribunal notes of the case with considerable understatement that “this was an embarrassing chain of events for the profession.” Given the hammering that the reputation of immigration lawyers has taken from this and some other incidents, “embarrassing” is a grossly insufficient descriptor.

The £10,000 fine imposed was apparently in the middle of the range of appropriate penalties. Mr Rajagopal also had to pay SRA costs of £7,500 as well as the wasted costs orders in the individual tribunal cases.

One consideration largely absent from the determination is the impact of this behaviour on the clients concerned. The templated judicial review applications were not only largely irrelevant but actually harmed the client’s cases, containing evidence which undermined the submissions made. Reading the determination, one is left with the impression that damage to the profession was considered a more important consideration.

As mitigation, Mr Rajagopal pleaded that the firm had contacted all affected clients, offered to reimburse professional fees, settle costs orders, advised on the right to litigate against the firm and offered to assist for free with further applications.

Further applications may not have been possible, however. Once a person becomes an overstayer they often become ineligible for further in country applications and become subject to a re-entry ban. Once an application for judicial review is brought and fails, any further application for judicial review will not automatically prevent removal.

It is often not possible to put right the wrongs of incompetent immigration representation. Damage done may well be irreparable. The tribunal shows no awareness of this consideration.

Colin Yeo
Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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