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A former SJ Berwin assistant pleaded guilty last week to forging work permits for clients
Immigration lawyer Lorraine Forrest was sentenced to 100 hours community service by the City of London Magistrates Court, together with a £100 fine and a two-year supervision and rehabilitation order. Forrest left SJ Berwin in November 1999 to join CMS Cameron McKenna's renowned team. However, the four forgery charges relate only to her time at SJ Berwin. Forrest stayed only five months at Camerons before moving to Lewis Silkin, from which she resigned last November. Neither of the latter firms were aware of the allegations at the time. SJ Berwin senior partner David Harrel said the forgeries were discovered after Forrest had left the firm, when a client started chasing a delayed work application. The firm informed the police and affected clients were contacted and given authentic work permits. It appears that Forrest had forged the permits to speed up the process and keep clients happy. "[The Home Office work permit applications] had been a system that she had been very effective in cutting through," said Harrel. "It's my belief she cut corners in order to get the result in the time that she'd come to expect." He claimed that ultimately the firm could not have done anything to prevent the situation. "The whole of the law firm is built upon huge measures of trust, and if that's missing then we might as well pack up and go home," Harrel said. "No firm has procedures in place which are built on the impression that everyone is going to behave dishonestly." Harrel added that he tried to talk to Forrest after she had moved on to Camerons, but had been contacted by management there to tell him that she did not wish to speak to him. As the matter was in the hands of the police, Harrel decided not to inform Camerons of his suspicions. SJ Berwin no longer has an immigration department.