Three law firms facing accusations of misconduct in handling asylum applications have been closed down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The affected firms are Rashid & Rashid in South Wimbledon, Kingswright Solicitors in Birmingham, and Lincoln Lawrence in Hounslow.
The closure follows an undercover operation carried out by the Daily Mail, wherein numerous solicitors were found to be willing to assist an undercover reporter, who posed as an economic migrant, in filing fraudulent asylum applications in exchange for large sums of money.
Alongside the firm closures, the SRA has suspended the practising certificates of three solicitors, each representing one of the affected firms, The Guardian reported.
The firms came under scrutiny after a Daily Mail investigation exposed their alleged involvement in charging exorbitant fees for submitting false asylum and human rights claims.
An undercover reporter from the newspaper revealed that despite indicating their lack of legitimate right to stay in the UK, assistance in obtaining refugee status was offered.
A legal adviser had been caught in the undercover operation, wherein the illegal migrant, who was actually the undercover reporter, that he would fabricate stories of torture, death threats, and modern slavery to support the migrant’s refugee status application.
In response to the situation, the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, urged the SRA to take firm action against any proven cases of wrongdoing.
In a letter to Chalk, Anna Bradley, chair of the SRA board, expressed her shock at the solicitors’ apparent behaviour.
The SRA obtained recordings and transcripts of conversations with four solicitors involved in the case, which are currently under review.
The SRA which is as the independent regulatory body responsible for overseeing solicitors in England and Wales has initiated an urgent on-site inspection of two of the firms involved in the asylum application misconduct.
This inspection aims to gather additional evidence related to the case.
Based on the evidence available, the SRA has taken immediate action by intervening into three firms, resulting in the suspension of the individual solicitors involved and the closure of the firms.
The solicitors and firms implicated in the investigation are Rashid Khan from Rashid & Rashid, located in Wimbledon, South London; Muhammad Ahmad from Kingswright solicitors in Birmingham; and Muhammad Hayat from Lincoln Lawrence solicitors in Hounslow, West London.
Additionally, an order was issued against VP Lingajothy, formerly associated with Duncan Ellis Solicitors in South London, which restricts him from working in another solicitor firm without the SRA’s permission.
The SRA’s intervention not only halted the firms’ operations but also led to the acquisition of all documents, papers, and funds held by the firms, including clients’ money.
Another solicitor firm has been appointed as an agent to handle all existing matters related to the firms under investigation.
Challenges to the interventions can be made at the high court, but if they are unsuccessful or no challenges are made, the firms will remain closed.
The SRA has declared that it will continue its investigation into the raised issues that led to the intervention, without disclosing further details at this stage of their work.
Following a thematic review into immigration work and the publication of guidance last year, Bradley informed Chalk that the SRA would begin a broader inspection of the immigration sector.
This inspection will focus on compliance with their new guidance and will involve a cross-section of firms operating in the asylum sector.
In addition, the SRA plans to expand and promote information on rules and best practices, including new guidance that reflects the latest investigation.
Furthermore, the SRA will publish new information aimed at providing guidance to asylum seekers and interpreters.