Executives from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have insisted that they have not been asked to fast-track prosecutions against immigration solicitors named in a Daily Mail report.
A delegation from the solicitors' regulator in England and Wales met British Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk (pictured) on Tuesday as part of the British Government’s official launch of its taskforce into wrongdoing in the sector.
The Daily Mail story appeared to show lawyers advising clients on how to create stories to boost their asylum claims.
According to the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales, SRA chief executive Paul Philip told the media today (11 August) that no pressure was put on the regulator to speed up the disciplinary process involving the solicitors and law firms shut down following their alleged dealings with an undercover Daily Mail reporter.
The process by which any firm or individual was brought before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal would be the same as for any others, Philip said.
The SRA chief described the conversation with ministers as “professional and robust”, noting that the government had initiated the meeting.
“We were invited to a meeting with two major ministers of state,” said Philip. “Why would we not at least go and hear what they have to say? It would have been wholly unreasonable not to go.”
Asked whether the SRA was conscious of maintaining the independence of the organisation, chair Anna Bradley said this was at the forefront of its thoughts.
Philip denied that a thematic review of the immigration sector carried out last year had failed to detect wrongdoing, saying that it was not intended to be a wholescale inspection.
“It is not a complete surprise to me [the review] did not find what the Mail found,” he said. “It is not often you get the types of evidence the Mail managed to uncover.
“Given we have that video evidence, we felt it was right to act decisively,” he added.
The Gazette says that the SRA executives made no apology for using the aftermath of the Daily Mail controversy to raise the issue of granting the SRA unlimited fining powers.
The regulator insists that this extra power would act as a greater deterrent, particularly if firms and other partners can be fined for the actions of a colleague.