The Home Secretary says she is determined to crack down on these immoral lawyers and stop the boats
The Government has said a “task force” has been launched to identify unscrupulous lawyers after reports that false asylum claims are being submitted for a fee.
The Home Office said the unit will bring together regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and other Government departments to take action against advocates found to be deceiving the courts.
It comes after the Daily Mail reported that a number of solicitors agreed to help an undercover journalist posing as an economic migrant submit a false application in exchange for thousands of pounds.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) prohibits lawyers from deceiving courts, and any act of dishonesty or lack of integrity may result in them being struck off.
But the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said the necessary powers are already in place to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.
It added that the Home Office is focusing on a “tiny minority of lawyers” rather than “significant” asylum claim backlogs and “the unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act”.
The Home Office said the Professional Enablers Taskforce, for which there is no new funding, has been carrying out preliminary work over the past few months.
This has included the development of a new training package for frontline staff who work in the immigration system to help them identify and report suspect activity, according to the department.
Police referrals have also been made where criminal activity is suspected, the Home Office said, with those ultimately found guilty of helping people remain in the country by fraudulent means facing life imprisonment.
The maximum sentence for assisting unlawful migration is already life imprisonment under the Immigration Act 1971.
Justice Secretary and former barrister Alex Chalk said professionals should not be granted “immunity” from the law “simply because they are lawyers”, telling GB News he is “absolutely comfortable” with the crackdown.
The announcement came after the first 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge, amid others being granted a last-minute reprieve after 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.”
Mr 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.”
Bar Council chairman Nick Vineall KC said lawyers must observe ethical and conduct rules which apply to them while advising and representing their clients, with appropriate sanctions if they breach them.
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 is “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 arrived at the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland on Monday, with the Home Office saying people are expected to be housed there for between three and nine months.
Cheryl Avery, the Home Office’s director for asylum accommodation, confirmed 15 people were moved on to the vessel as part of the Government’s bid to cut the cost of hotel bills by finding other accommodation, which also includes former military bases.
Care4Calais said around 20 asylum seekers did not board the barge as planned because their transfers were “cancelled” after lawyers challenged the decisions.
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.”
Official figures released on Monday confirmed the number of migrants staying in hotels passed 50,000 in June.
Mr Chalk said on Tuesday that the backlog of asylum claims has decreased by 17,000 over “recent weeks”.