Sandbrook Solicitors to be investigated by SRA
In another Hamid judgment the Upper Tribunal has referred for investigation by the Solicitor Regulation Authority the conduct of another solicitors’ firm, this time Sandbrook Solicitors. The case is Re Sandbrook Solicitors  EWHC 2473 (Admin).
Sitting in the Upper Tribunal, Mr Justice Green makes clear that no findings of fact were being made by the tribunal:
We emphasise that in this judgment we have made no formal findings against Sandbrook or any solicitor working within that practice. We simply record our concerns. However, in view of the above, we conclude that the appropriate course is to refer Sandbrook to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for a fuller investigation. We set out below the issues that we consider are reflected in the papers on the Court files.
Instead the judgment seems to have been published as a shaming exercise… for readers of BAILII and the specialist legal press, i.e. other lawyers, not the public generally or those in the market for immigration legal services. Whether this is an appropriate and effective use of court time and resources is highly questionable given that that the court process is hardly an investigatory one, the sanctions available are limited and these Hamid cases have so far failed to correct the behaviour of which judges complain. In the one case of which we know where a firm was actually closed down by the SRA and a solicitor barred from practice, no BAILII judgment was actually published and everything seemed to happen behind the scenes.
The first paragraph of the Sandbrook judgment describes the issue under consideration:
There is before the Tribunal an issue which has arisen out of a concern that the firm of Sandbrook Solicitors (“Sandbrook”) has engaged in a systematic course of conduct designed to undermine the immigration system which amounts to a persistent abuse of process of the Court. In particular, the cases which are before us exhibit a pattern whereby injunctions to restrain imminent removal, invariably upon a without-notice basis, are being sought in immigration cases but, when granted, are not pursued by the service of proceedings. The pattern emerging suggests that a strategy or tactic is being deployed whereby without-notice injunctions are sought and then when granted the case is permitted to fade away from sight with the consequence that the failed asylum seeker or immigrant remains in the United Kingdom below the radar. It is typical of such case that the person subject to removal is in detention pending removal but that once interim relief is granted the individual is released from detention. In many such cases the individual then absconds. In some cases, when the Secretary of State for the Home Department (“SSHD”) has finally caught up with the applicant and seeks, yet again, to remove the person from the UK, further without-notice applications for injunctive relief are then sought and obtained without informing the Judge hearing the application of the prior history to the case. The stratagem is also facilitated by the legal representative simply refusing to respond to requests from Court officials or the Home Office or Treasury Solicitors.
Although it is said later no factual findings are made the judgment reads otherwise. Paragraph 4 goes on:
The facts that are set out below reflect what has become an all too familiar and depressing pattern in which legal representatives demonstrate a lack of care and concern for the substantive and procedural rules governing claims for judicial review. They suggest, in our view, a deliberate disregard for the professional duties that all legal representatives owe to the Court, and in the present case to the Tribunal.
The judge also complains of lack of cooperation by Sandbrook Solicitors, who were summoned to the Star Chamber under the powers of the Upper Tribunal’s inherent jurisdiction (inherited from the High Court by virtue of section 25(1)(a) of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007). The partners did not attend in person and instructed a solicitor advocate instead. Their position was said to be that they “were not aware of any serious defaults or errors upon their part in any of the cases in question and that there was no possible basis upon which a reference to the SRA should be made”.
Speaking to Legal Futures, the firm said:
We are aware of the referral by Mr Justice Green of a small number of immigration matters in which we were referred to the SRA for review.
Whilst it would be inappropriate for us to comment in detail at this stage whilst the SRA review is ongoing, we are confident that, in due course, once the same has been completed, we will be found to have acted appropriately and in accordance with our professional obligations at all times.
Whatever the ultimate outcome of the SRA investigation, the right forum for investigation of these sorts of allegations is with the regulator, with all the procedural safeguards and, if necessary, proper sanctions that go with that. The Hamid hearings risk real unfairness, as previously discussed on this blog. An imperious summons from angry High Court judges who have limited investigation powers, limited available sanctions and an apparent interest in “making an example” of pesky immigration lawyers is not the right way forward.