Following accusations that bogus asylum petitions are being submitted for a fee, the government has formed a new “task force” to investigate unethical lawyers.
According to the Home Office, the unit would bring together regulatory organisations, law enforcement teams, and other government departments to take action against advocates who are found to be misleading the courts.
It comes after the Daily Mail reported that a number of attorneys agreed to assist an undercover journalist posing as an economic migrant in submitting a fraudulent application for thousands of pounds in exchange for thousands of pounds.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) forbids lawyers from misleading courts, and any act of dishonesty or lack of integrity may result in their disbarment.
However, the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, claims that the requisite powers to deal with misbehaving immigration advisers are already in place.
It went on to say that the Home Office is concentrating on a “tiny minority of lawyers” rather than “significant” asylum claim backlogs and the “unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act.”
The Home Office stated that the Professional Enablers Taskforce, which has no fresh funding, has been conducting preparatory work over the previous few months.
According to the agency, this has included the development of a new training programme for frontline personnel who operate in the immigration system to help them recognise and report suspicious conduct.
According to the Home Office, police referrals have also been made where criminal behaviour is suspected.
After the first 15 refugees boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge, others were granted a last-minute respite following a series of legal challenges.
Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson was reported to have said asylum seekers complaining about the barge, moored off the Dorset coast, should “f*** off back to France”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, speaking about the task force, said: “Crooked immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice.
“While the majority of lawyers act with integrity – we know that some are lying to help illegal migrants game the system. It is not right or fair on those who play by the rules.
“The British people want us to put an end to illegal migration – I am determined to crack down on these immoral lawyers and stop the boats.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Ms Braverman said: “These conmen make it far harder to remove people who have no right to be here – and they must face the full force of the law.
“I want to see the worst offenders in jail and we have the laws in place to bring them to justice.
“I know our teams are working incredibly hard to root out those who game our asylum system and cheat the British public – this can’t go on.”
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “The accuracy and honesty of legal advice underpins the integrity of our world-leading legal system, so those who undermine it by encouraging deception must be held to account.
“This Government is committed to stopping the boats – that means breaking the business model of criminal gangs and holding to account unscrupulous lawyers who aid and abet them by abusing the legal system.”
But Richard Atkinson, deputy vice president of the Law Society, said: “This ‘task force’ has been around for months now, so it is not clear what, if anything, the Government is announcing today.”
He added: “The Government, regulators and law enforcement agencies already have the powers they need to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.
“The overwhelming majority of immigration lawyers continue to support the rule of law through their adherence to the law and professional standards set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and provide an essential service to clients.
“The focus of the Home Office on a tiny minority of lawyers to which they are apparently applying considerable resources should not deflect from the fact that there remains significant backlogs in asylum claims or the unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act.”
Lawyers must follow ethical and conduct guidelines that apply to them while advising and representing their clients, according to Bar Council head Nick Vineall KC, and will face appropriate punishment if they do not.
He said: “The task force must not fall into the trap of identifying lawyers with the causes of their clients, nor should it assume that misbehaviour by clients amounts to misbehaviour by lawyers.”
For Labour, shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said it was “too little too late” and the “buck stops” with the Conservatives, accusing them of having “sat idly by for 13 years while illegal migration has spun out of control”.
He said: “Now, weak as ever, they are setting up a talking shop instead of cracking down on those who abuse our immigration system.”
The first asylum seekers landed at the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland on Monday, with the Home Office estimating that they will stay for three to nine months.
Cheryl Avery, the Home Office’s director for asylum accommodation, revealed that 15 people were transported onto the ship as part of the Government’s effort to save hotel costs by finding alternative housing, which includes disused military facilities.
According to Care4Calais, approximately 20 asylum seekers were unable to board the barge as planned because their transfers were “cancelled” after lawyers appealed the rulings.
Tory MP Mr Anderson, on those complaining about the accommodation, told Express.co.uk: “If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France.”
He added: “I think people have just had enough.
“These people come across the Channel in small boats, if they don’t like the conditions they are housed in here then they should go back to France or better not come at all in the first place.”
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, currently an Independent MP, wrote on Twitter: “A new low even for the Tories.”
According to official numbers provided on Monday, the number of migrants staying in hotels has surpassed 50,000.