Government calls time on ‘ludicrous’ asylum challenges
Robert Jenrick on the removal of illegal Albanian migrants
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Activist lawyers suspected of “stringing out” asylum claims to pocket millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are facing a Government crackdown. Ministers believe some have turned the migrant crisis into a “gravy train” by cooking up ludicrous reasons for their clients to stay in the UK to maximise their own earnings.
Several firms are being monitored for creating work for themselves by helping illegal immigrants avoid deportation.
Anyone deliberately undermining the system will be red-flagged and referred to regulators who can impose fines, or in the most serious cases strike them off the so they can no longer practice law.
Almost £40million was paid out in legal aid for immigration cases last year, which is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the cost to taxpayers.
Legal appeals rack up the costs for Government lawyers and deportation delays mean claimants have to be housed and fed.
Home Office figures show 9,483 migrants are currently living in hotels or similar accommodation, adding to the £1.5billion annual cost of the UK’s asylum system.
A Government source said: “The abuse of the system is widespread and systematic.
“These lawyers know what they’re doing – it’s a gravy train and the aim of the game is to string it out as long as possible and put in the least amount of work so they can maximise the money they take from the taxpayer.”
But the Law Society said it was “vital to avoid any perception of interference or intimidation” by the state.
As well as launching appeals against deportations, lawyers are believed to be exploiting anti-modern slavery legislation by claiming their clients are victims.
So far this year 2,720 migrants have been detected crossing the Channel in small boats and the Government is under pressure from Conservative MPs to introduce promised new laws designed to stop the arrivals.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said legislation had been delayed due to fears it would be challenged in the courts.
He told MPs: “It is an area where, I am afraid, human rights lawyers abuse and exploit our laws at times, and where the courts have taken an expansive approach in the past.”
He added: “We are monitoring the activities, as it so happens, of a small number of legal practitioners.”
Responding, Law Society President Lubna Shuja said: “Law firms are rigorously regulated and rightly held to high standards.
“Any concerns about law firm practices should be reported to and investigated by authorities independent of government such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
“This is vital to avoid any perception of interference or intimidation by the state of those who ensure the Home Office is making lawful decisions.
“The independence between government and the legal system safeguards people’s right to hold public bodies and those in power to account.”
But Alp Mehmet, of pressure group Migration Watch, said: “Those who force their way into Britain, having paid colossal sums to crooks to get them here, can challenge in the courts any decision to deny them asylum or to remove them.
“Their lawyer, who doubtless urges them down the legal path, is rewarded, while the asylum seeker is accommodated and maintained throughout.
“And the entire cost is borne by the taxpayer. Is it any wonder that the hard-pressed public are angry?”
One legal professional admitted huge profits were made from asylum cases, saying: “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Official figures show legal aid for immigration cases completed in the 12 months to October 2022 cost taxpayers £37million.
The Home Office has been concerned for some time and former Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland accused the legal profession of “taking the public for a ride” by ensuring asylum cases are “deliberately elongated”.
It follows a spate of cases which saw lawyers touting for business from people hoping to sue the Government for the actions of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Conservative MPs are pushing the Government to introduce a planned Small Boats Bill before the summer, when warmer weather is expected to encourage more migrants to make the journey across the Channel.
They include Sir Bill Wiggin, who said: “The Government is frustrated by the Home Office civil servants and by the way in which lawyers are able to tear apart the existing preventative measures and make Britain a soft touch.”
MPs are also worried about the slow progress of plans to move asylum seekers out of hotels and into alternative accommodation.
A former minister said hotels in their constituency were full, damaging the local tourism industry.
They said: “It’s becoming difficult to book a staycation because there are no hotel rooms available. This hits the local economy and businesses such as bars and restaurants.”
Conservative vice-chairman Alexander Stafford has asked Ministers to re-open Doncaster Sheffield airport, which closed last year, so it can be used to fly out illegal immigrants and speed up deportations.
And former Tory minister Kit Malthouse MP urged the Government to negotiate a deal allowing illegal migrants to be sent back to France in return for the UK accepting “genuine refugees” from French authorities.
Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft sparked anger among Tory MPs last week when he sent a private memo to staff highlighting three priorities – but made no mention of tackling illegal migration.
Instead, he spoke about righting the wrongs suffered by some members of the Windrush generation, combating violence against women and girls, and expanding global talent visa routes.
By contrast, the Prime Minister set out his five priorities in January which included “new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.
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