The lord chief justice has pledged to refer two criminal solicitors to the Solicitors Regulation Authority after ruling that they gave advice that ‘plainly did not pass a standard of competence’.
In a judgment from July published last week, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (pictured) said the unnamed solicitors had wrongly advised an Iranian citizen, Ali Shabani, who went on to plead guilty to possession of false identity documents.
The conviction was quashed on appeal on the basis that those who advised Shabani failed to give proper advice in relation to the defence that commonly arises in these type of cases.
The appellant had fled Iran to escape arrest for his political activities and arrived in London via Turkey and Spain.
Thomas said it was plain that if the appellant had been advised properly in relation to the appropriate article of the Refugee Convention 1951 and section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 he would have had an arguable defence with a realistic prospect of success.
But it emerged in the appeal that the duty solicitor had not even appreciated there might be an arguable defence.
When the case came to trial at Lewes Crown Court, Shabani was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.
Thomas said it was ‘unacceptable’ for Shabani's representatives to have offered such ‘incompetent’ advice and said there was no choice but to refer both solicitors to the SRA.
‘There can be little excuse for a failure to understand the law and advise properly,’ said Thomas.
‘The criminal justice system cannot afford the kind of incompetence that was displayed in this case; nor can we as a nation afford to have lawyers who act so incompetently that someone wrongly spends a considerable amount of time in prison.’
Thomas said he would not name the solicitors to avoid ’pre-judging’ the SRA decision, but that they should be named if the regulator finds they breached their duty.
Updated on Wednesday: The SRA has said in a statement it has yet to receive any referral in this particular matter.