Two brothers have been sanctioned by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after the government raised concerns about certain law firms making a disproportionately high number of ‘totally without merit’ judicial review claims in immigration and asylum cases.
The Home Office informed the Solicitors Regulation Authority that the high street firm at the centre of the tribunal case Solicitors Regulation Authority v Malik Mohammed Nazeer and Malik Mohammed Saleem submitted 35 cases between April 2014 and July 2015 that were judged to be totally without merit.
Nazeer, who was admitted in August 1997, dealt with the firm’s management and admininistration and was the compliance officer for practice and finance administration. Saleem, admitted in April 1997, was the partner responsible for the firm’s immigration work.
The SRA alleged that, between January 2014 and December 2015, the brothers brought or facilitated judicial review claims on behalf of clients in circumstances when they knew or should have known that the claim was not properly arguable and its true purpose was to thwart or delay lawful removal or procure release from lawful detention. The brothers were accused of deliberately or recklessly failing to warn some clients that any claims they brought were bound to fail or be out of time. They were also accused of offering an unbundled service only to clients with claims they knew to be very weak or unarguable.
Counsel for the brothers said context was important in assessing standards. The judgment states: ‘The respondents were operating a high street firm representing a reviled group in society. The work was high-volume, modestly paid and the legal framework was complex and challenging. The immigration system was often chaotic and the problems at the Home Office had been well-publicised over a number of years. The decision-making process had been characterised by delays, poor decision-making and a large number of applications. There were systemic problems which included a legal framework which was “extraordinarily complex”, subject to frequent change and produced hundreds of decisions in the higher courts each year. The complexity of the system had been noted by the courts on numerous occasions. The inequality of arms occurred at every level through the system.’
The tribunal found that Saleem’s misconduct arose from an ‘overzealous desire to help clients that he perceived to be vulnerable. There was an element of breach of trust in that clients had trusted him to correctly advise them as to their prospects of a successful challenge by way of judicial review’. Saleem was suspended from practice for 18 months. He will be subject to conditions after the suspension expires. He was ordered to pay £39,042 costs.
The tribunal said the firm’s management system, for which Nazeer was responsible as the firm’s COLP and COFA, was ‘limited and chaotic’. Nazeer was fined £20,000, ordered to pay £13,014 costs, and will be subject to practising conditions.