An immigration lawyer praised for his “good deeds” among the Chinese community has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Vay Sui Ip, a partner at Manchester firm Sandbrook Solicitors, was prosecuted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority over judicial reviews issued as a means of “frustrating deportations“.
The tribunal, to cut a 96-page judgment short, agreed with the SRA that Mr Ip had breached various of its rules, chief among them that he had applied for judicial reviews that were “totally without merit” and “engaged in a systematic course of conduct designed to undermine the immigration system”. Other allegations were not proven.
Referencing its duty to maintain the reputation of solicitors as a body which can be trusted “to the ends of earth”, the tribunal ultimately opted for striking off as the “reasonable and proportionate sanction”.
The case followed a 2015 reference to the SRA by the Upper Tribunal. Green J wrote following a Hamid hearing that “Sandbrook had been prepared to advance virtually any ground however tenuous or hopeless, simply to provide a platform for the interim relief application which then ensures”.
As Colin wrote at the time, “the right forum for investigation of these sorts of allegations is with the regulator”, rather than a Star Chamber of angry judges.
The regulator has now done its worst before a panel composed of Mr J.C. Chesterton, Ms H. Dobson and Dr S. Brown. The trio reviewed the five cases involving Chinese nationals that had caused the Upper Tribunal concern back in 2015.
Mr Ip, on the tribunal’s account, cut a sympathetic figure. Its members noted that he suffered from an unspecified medical condition, such that he
needed to take breaks every 75 to 90 minutes… on one occasion during the evidence, the tribunal adjourned for a break, despite the respondent’s assertion that he was well enough to continue, as it was concerned for his health and ability to concentrate.
When permitted to address the tribunal in mitigation, Mr Ip “found it hard to speak” but managed a “simple apology for his misconduct”.
The panel also accepted that
the respondent enjoyed helping members of the Chinese community, and others, and gained personal satisfaction from that and being recognised for his good deeds on ‘WeChat’ and otherwise.
Damningly, though, it found that Mr Ip was an “unsafe witness” who “lacked a steady adherence to a moral code”.
In taking essentially tactical judicial reviews, the tribunal found, Mr Ip had
put himself in a position to obtain apparently good results where others, who abided by the rules of professional conduct, could not. His apparent success in getting his clients’ removal deferred, and securing their release from detention, had been achieved because he had failed to be candid with the Court, had made late submissions which had been substantially devoid of merit and had then failed to pursue the proceedings to a proper conclusion.
No solicitor could reasonably expect to escape sanction for the behaviour described in the tribunal decision. The panel concluded that the judicial reviews gave his clients “false hope about about the merits of their applications to remain in the UK” as part of a business model reliant on “referrals or further business from satisfied clients and their families/friends”. There was
a clear, direct and swift financial benefit to him and his firm if he were seen to have gone above and beyond the norm in helping his clients.
The panel, remarkably, felt it necessary to put on record that “there is nothing wrong or improper in any way in a solicitor carrying out immigration work” and “did not criticise those involved in such work” (see paragraph 137). Readers may wonder whether disciplinary panels have seen fit to damn other practice areas with such faint praise over the actions of a rogue few.
The context, as the tribunal noted in the subsequent paragraphs, is the particular concern of judges that immigration cases are open to abuse by practitioners failing to live up to their professional obligations. That subtext was doubtless relevant to the sanction. As Billal Malik, representing Mr Ip, said:
it was likely that the tribunal would consider striking off [Mr Ip], given that the Hamid issues were a “hot topic”, there had been some attention given to the case in the legal press, the level at which the allegations had been pitched and that the complaint to the [SRA] had been made by a High Court Judge.
So it has proved.