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THE GOVERNMENT is considering relaxing client confidentiality rules to allow lawyers to report unscrupulous immigration advisers who are preying on the vulnerability of immigrants.
A consultation paper is due to be unveiled by the government later this month proposing a regulatory regime for legally qualified and unqualified immigration advisers.
There are growing concerns about advisers who mislead clients on the availability of legal aid and their chances of gaining asylum, fail to inform them of costs in advance or give out incompetent advice. Immigration specialist Jawaid Luqmani, of Jane Coker & partners, said: "I know of chemists shops in East London which are offering immigration advice on the side."
Home office minister Mike O'Brien is understood to have heeded complaints from frustrated lawyers that client confidentiality made it impossible for them to pass on information gleaned from their clients about the sharp practices of others.
O'Brien is considering a partial relaxation of the rules.
The proposal is likely to be among a series of measures designed to fulfil the government's manifesto promise to "control unscrupulous immigration advisers".
The Law Society has just issued a voluntary code for immigration advisers in a bid to convince the government that it is able to tackle sharp practice among solicitors.
But O'Brien, who met with the Law Society's immigration sub-committee last month, is understood to be unimpressed with the code because of its lack of sanctions.
Law Society sub-committee chair Ruth Bundey said the society wanted to "encourage a climate of complaint" where solicitors could speak out about others' malpractice. She said it was also pressing for the extension of legal aid to cover tribunal representation.
Cameron McKenna partner and head of the Immigration & Nationality Law Group Julia Onslow-Cole said: "Practitioners know who the bad advisers are but are often prevented from saying so due to client confidentiality and rules on professional conduct."