Image source, PA Media
Image caption, Home Secretary Suella Braverman says a minority of lawyers are helping illegal migrants game the system
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has vowed to step up efforts to bring “crooked” immigration lawyers to justice.
It comes after reports some firms are offering to submit false asylum claims for a fee.
A new taskforce, which has been carrying out preliminary work for a few months, has officially been launched.
The Home Office said it would help build stronger evidence bases to support prosecutions.
But the Law Society said the Home Office was focusing on “a tiny minority of lawyers” rather than the “significant backlogs in asylum claims”.
The organisation, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said the necessary powers were already in place to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.
David McNeill, from the Law Society, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the taskforce has existed for months and the announcement “looks like a bit of lawyer-bashing”.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said the announcement 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”.
The Home Office said the Professional Enablers Taskforce, for which there is no new funding, brought together regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and other government departments.
It said there had already been referrals to the police where criminal activity was suspected.
The department gave the example of a case where an immigration firm was linked to one of the most wanted human traffickers, which had now been referred to police.
Last week the legal watchdog, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, suspended three legal firms who were caught offering to submit fake asylum claims.
It came after an investigation by the Daily Mail alleged some companies agreed to help an undercover reporter posing as an economic migrant submit a false application, using a fabricated backstory of trafficking or torture, in exchange for thousands of pounds.
Those found guilty of helping people remain in the country by fraudulent means could face life imprisonment, the government says.
The maximum sentence for assisting unlawful migration is already life imprisonment under the Immigration Act 1971.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority prohibits lawyers from deceiving courts, and any act of dishonesty or lack of integrity may result in them being struck off.
The Home Office said the taskforce had also developed new training for staff who work in the immigration system to help them identify and report suspect activity.
The home secretary is chairing a roundtable meeting with the lord chancellor, Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner later to reiterate the government’s focus on prosecuting lawyers who help submit false claims.
Ms Braverman 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 announcement came after the first 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge, while 20 others refused to move from hotels to the vessel.
Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson used an expletive to say that if they did not like barges they should go back to France, the Daily Express reported.
Asked about the language, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Lee has expressed himself in his own way but the central point he’s making is not unreasonable.”