A solicitor who is suspended from practice can nevertheless advise clients on immigration law.
This simple but perhaps surprising fact was highlighted by a recent case before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in which an East London solicitor unsuccessfully challenged an indefinite suspension given to him in 2009. Since that time, the judgment shows, he has been working as an adviser regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
The disciplinary tribunal decision in Rana Khalil Rahman v Solicitors Regulation Authority was published on 24 November. It concerned the indefinite suspension of the applicant ordered in November 2009 for “very serious” breaches of the professional rules for solicitors. The applicant, according to the tribunal’s 2009 findings, has been “extremely reckless in his practice of conveyancing”.
In order to earn a living following the suspension, the applicant qualified as an OISC adviser. He now works as an immigration lawyer trading as Ilford Law Chambers. Immigration had not previously been his field, although the tribunal heard that he had “some knowledge of it” as a solicitor.
The applicant also told the tribunal that the OISC had conducted “7 or 8 audits” of his business. Asked for comment, the OISC confirmed that
The application records for Ilford Law Chambers are now over 6 years old and in line with Data Protection Regulations have therefore not been retained. The OISC have however conducted numerous premise audits of the organisation over the years and worked closely with both the organisation and Mr Rahman to ensure that the organisation acts at all times in a competent and fit manner.
It went on to say that “there is no indication in the recent findings that Mr Rahman is not competent to act as an Immigration adviser”, pointing to a line in the recent tribunal decision:
There is no doubt that the Applicant had been sufficiently trained in immigration law work… [paragraph 55]
The original findings leading to suspension, the regulator stressed to us, related to conveyancing work and did not involve findings of dishonesty. Nevertheless, it said, the OISC will “continue to discuss with Mr Rahman the issues raised in the recent decision by the tribunal as part of our ongoing assessment, applied to all advisers, as to their fitness to continue to operate as an OISC regulated adviser”.
On the general point about the appropriateness of a lawyer suspended by one regulator being approved by another, the OISC states as follows:
On making an application to the OISC for regulation all applicants are required to submit details of relevant training and work history, and to declare to the Commissioner, amongst other things, whether any sanctions have been taken against them by another regulatory body. The OISC also share information on regulatory matters with the SRA and other regulatory bodies and we take seriously any matters brought to our attention.
What to make of this? There is no suggestion that the applicant is not a perfectly qualified and capable adviser. Nevertheless the refusal of the tribunal to lift the suspension to practise as a solicitor cited his inability to prove, to the required standard, that this would not “put the public at risk”. Some members of the public might find it odd that they are protected from a lawyer’s advice when he takes one guise, but not when he puts on another form.