Immigration fee sparks outrage

THE Home Office is levying charges on the Law Society, Bar Council and Institute of Legal Executives for the privilege of not regulating their members' immigration law practices.

Law Society policy adviser Karen Mackay says a Home Office proposal that the Law Society and Bar Council “subsidise” the Home Office immigration law regulation scheme through the payment of, as yet, unspecified fees is “outrageous”.

She continues: “The commissioner is not going to regulate solicitors, but can charge the Law Society for not regulating us.”

The Law Society and Bar Council won a significant victory in retaining their powers of self-regulation when the Asylum and Immigration Bill – which proposes the setting up of an Immigration Services Commission to regulate immigration advisors – was published last week.

Mackay predicts there will not be enough non-legally qualified bodies paying their £6,300 regulation fees to fund the new Commission and that the Law Society and Bar Council will be “charged to make up the shortfall”.

“There could be very high charges on the Bar Council and the Law Society.”

Julia Onslow-Cole, partner in charge of immigration at Cameron McKenna and secretary of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), comments: “ILPA members will be briefing MPs on issues in the Bill, including this and sanctions on employers of illegal immigrants.”

A Home Office spokesman says the new regulation scheme applies both to legally qualified and non-qualified advisors, even though solicitors and barristers may be exempt at the Home Office's discretion through membership of their professional bodies.

The spokesman adds: “It would be contrary to government accounting rules if non-legally qualified advisors were subsidising the regulation of lawyers. Therefore, they will all have to pay.”

Bruce Chatwin, legal director of the Joint council for the Welfare of Immigrants, comments: “The fees will drive most non-legally qualified advisors out of the game, leaving the Law Society and Bar Council to pick up the tab. That's a bit rich for a scheme which is going to be regulating practically no one.”