Crackdown on asylum lawyers continues

The continued crackdown on underperforming and corrupt asylum lawyers continued apace with a number of new initiatives revealed yesterday, as the Government detailed new legislation to be announced in the Queen’s Speech next month.

Central to a new package of reforms revealed by the Home Office were powers for the Immigration Services Commissioner to enter solicitors’ offices to seize and examine documents, investigate unqualified advisers who are not being properly supervised and raid the private and business premises of unqualified legal advisers. There will also be greater pressure on the Law Society to provide swift cooperation during investigations as well as a new criminal offence of advertising or offering immigration advice without appropriate qualifications.

“Too often unscrupulous and unqualified legal advisers are encouraging claimants to lodge appeal after appeal with no prospect of success, all at the taxpayers’ expense,” commented the Home Secretary David Blunkett.

In a separate development, it was revealed yesterday that solicitors and legal advisers undertaking asylum work will be required to undertake compulsory accreditation as part of the effort to weed out poor performers. The Law Society was giving evidence to the Department for Constitutional Affairs Select Committee examining the quality and cost of asylum and immigration legal aid work, when it announced details of the new scheme. From the beginning of next year, the Law Society will introduce the scheme for all advisers working in solicitors’ offices.

“The new accreditation scheme will consist of three levels,” explained Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva. “To reach the advanced level advisers will have to demonstrate that they have particularly high levels of knowledge, skills and integrity.” She said it was part of the Law Society’s work with the Legal Services Commission and the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner to “identify poor performers and root them out of the legal aid system”.