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Immigration solicitor strike-off appeal fails as more firms face misconduct investigations

Immigration solicitor strike-off appeal fails as more firms face misconduct investigations

A struck-off solicitor has failed in a High Court bid to overturn the decision of a disciplinary tribunal to ban him from legal practice. The case is Ip v Solicitors Regulation Authority [2018] EWHC 957.

Immigration specialist Vay Sui Ip was struck off following a decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in October 2017. Mr Ip, who until December 2015 was a partner at Manchester firm Sandbrook Solicitors, had been referred to the regulator by the Upper Tribunal over last-ditch applications to halt the removal of clients from the UK.

The tribunal found that the solicitor, exploiting a “weak spot” in the immigration system, had “assisted individuals in making last-minute submissions, which were lacking in substantive merit and were merely designed to disrupt the Secretary of State’s arrangements for removing the individual on a particular date”.

Mr Ip challenged the tribunal’s decision at the High Court. But Lord Justice Irwin and President Lane found that:

the [Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, or SDT] was entirely justified in imposing the sanction of striking off. The SDT was right to include deterrence as an aspect of its overall considerations, in deciding the appropriate sanction. In so doing, the SDT was not making any generalised criticism of those who practise in the difficult and demanding area of immigration law. On the contrary, it is only by the maintenance of high professional standards that solicitors who are discharging their professional responsibilities can safely enjoy the recognition they deserve.

They continued:

The Courts well understand the vulnerability of many of those who are at risk of removal or deportation. They can be desperate to remain and are often prepared to grasp at straws. These factors add to the difficulty of representing such clients.

In conclusion, the Court considers it is critical that solicitors and others representing such clients are scrupulous in observing professional standards. Spurious or merely hopeless applications to courts and tribunals add to the burdens on the justice system and to the costs of government. However, they also involve costs to applicants, both financially and in engendering prolonged and unjustified expectations.

(All the quotes above come from the official summary issued alongside the judgment proper.)

The decision comes as the latest in a series of Hamid cases, in which the courts publicly blast immigration lawyers for professional misconduct and sometimes refer them to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for further investigation. In another judgment issued today, R (Sathivel) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2018] EWHC 913, three more immigration firms were handed over to the regulator by the High Court. They are:

  • David Wyld & Co Solicitors, South Woodford, London, accused of “deliberate abuse of process… serious failings… a wholly unsubstantiated case that was totally without merit”
  • Sabz Solicitors LLP, with offices in Manchester, London and Birmingham. The firm had been “referred under the Hamid jurisdiction on a number of previous occasions” and is now accused of “serious failures to supervise an unqualified member of staff” and “a failure to ensure that full documentation was placed before the Court”.
  • Topstone Solicitors, London, accused of acting “in ignorance of any of the most basic facts about the client or the case” and drafting “irredeemably bad” grounds “devoid of principle, law or fact” prepared by an unqualified trainee.

The court stressed that its view was not binding on the SRA, which has to make its decision independently.

This judgment also comes with a handy press summary, indicating that the judges intend for the case to make a splash. For more detailed commentary, see Iain’s piece.

 

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