Straw attacks immigration firms

THE Government is threatening to chip away another block of the Law Society's regulatory powers with its proposal to set up a statutory body to regulate immigration lawyers and advisers.

The move, announced by the Home Secretary Jack Straw last week, follows the Treasury's decision to strip the society of its powers to regulate solicitor financial advisers.

The proposals, together with a claim by Straw that dozens of unscrupulous law firms are preying on vulnerable immigrants, have been met with dismay by the Law Society.

A consultation paper calls for the creation of a self-financing statutory body to 'set and monitor levels of competence', 'undertake random inspections of registered advisers' and 'apply a range of sanctions to remedy breaches of standards or ethics'.

It would make it a crime to offer immigration advice for payment without being accredited by the body.

The paper criticises the Law Society's proposals for an immigration law accreditation scheme because the scheme would not be compulsory. It claims there is 'no guarantee that the legal profession will seek to regulate itself further'.

Immigration specialist David Burgess, a partner at Winstanley Burgess, said he favoured the statutory body idea because the Law Society's monitoring powers were insufficient.

'The Law Society does not intervene unless it is alerted to a problem,' he said.

But Law Society Immigration Law Sub-committee secretary Richard Dunstan said the Law Society would 'battle' against such a change.

Other Law Society officials labelled Straw's attack on law firms as 'unfounded' and 'astonishing' and accused Straw of deliberately 'lawyer-bashing' to appease the tabloids.