Two solicitors have been fined for pursuing “spurious” immigration cases — many of which they knew were hopeless because they had advised the client as much.
Nurgus Malik and Jusna Begum Miah, who at the time worked for M-R Solicitors in London, admitted several counts of professional misconduct at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Fining them £12,000 each plus costs, the tribunal found that the pair had “taken advantage of vulnerable clients in a manner that brought the immigration system and provision of legal services into disrepute”.
Between January 2015 and July 2016, the firm submitted 91 judicial reviews, of which a little over half were unsuccessful and a quarter were judicially certified as totally without merit. Investigators found that all the totally without merit files they looked at had “common characteristics”. The clients:
- Were vulnerable in that they had no lawful status in the UK
- Faced removal to their country of origin, to which they did not want to return
- Had spent a considerable number of years in the UK
- Were likely to have been unfamiliar with the UK legal system
- May have demonstrated a reluctance to turn to figures in authority
- May not have spoken English as a first language
The Solicitors Regulation Authority, which brought the case, pulled no punches about the quality of the cases. For example, “the details provided, if any, were vague, unsupported by any evidence, and relied entirely upon generic allegations about the natural consequences of the client having been absent from their country of origin and in the UK for a number of years”. The applications contained “no or manifestly insufficient documentary evidence” and — a sure sign of trouble — the grounds “had the appearance of being formulaic as opposed to fact specific”. Statements of fact were “incomplete and misleading”, with “matters materially adverse to the clients’ cases… omitted”.
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In several cases, the solicitors had actually advised the client that there were “no” prospects of success at judicial review. Others were told that their chances were “low”.
Both Ms Malik and Ms Miah admitted preparing applications for judicial review when they knew or ought to have known that the claims were totally without merit. They also admitted to various other regulatory breaches, including abusing the court process and charging clients legal fees with no prospect of delivering the desired legal outcome. But they asked the tribunal to take into account that they had cleaned up their act, with no cases certified as totally without merit after July 2016.
They also argued that the case wasn’t in the “first rank of offending behaviour” because, among other things, the High Court had not pulled them in for a Hamid hearing.
The tribunal accepted that the respondents were motivated by a desire to help their clients “as opposed to any sinister intent”. But the “spurious” claims had “bogged down” the Home Office and — more to the point — harmed vulnerable clients. Migrants “were charged [around £800 each on average] for work of a very low standard and with no prospects of success”, unfairly raising their expectations.
The panel added that there were aggravating factors. The misconduct was deliberate and extended over 18 months. It also
had the potential to feed into the residual prejudice of some with regards to the overall authenticity, or otherwise, of genuine immigration claims properly made.
On the other hand, both Ms Malik and Ms Miah had “unblemished” careers to date.
In the end, the tribunal meted out a £12,000 fine apiece along with various practice restrictions. In addition, the respondents have to pay the regulator’s costs, fixed at £53,000 in total or £26,500 each.
M-R Solicitors confirmed that both Ms Malik and Ms Miah have left the firm.