The High Court has backed a tribunal in making an example of an immigration solicitor who took advantage of weaknesses in the system to bring hopeless appeals.
In Ip v Solicitors Regulation Authority, Mr Justice Lane upheld a ban imposed on Vay Sui Ip after finding his actions amounted to an abuse of process and agreed that deterrence should form part of his punishment.
Ip, a partner at Manchester firm Sandbrook Solicitors for four years until the end of 2015, was struck off and ordered to pay £10,000 costs by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last October.
The SRA said Ip brought last-minute challenges to removal decisions which had no legal basis, lacked merit and were designed to exploit what was described as a ‘weak spot’ in the immigration system. At tribunal, he was found to lack integrity but not to have acted dishonesty.
One application was described as an abuse of process, leaving out key information that would likely have meant the submission would be rejected by the Home Office. On another occasion, submissions were made late in order to avoid a decision being made by the Home Office before the date of the client’s removal.
Ip, a solicitor since 2009, insisted the strike-off was disproportionate and based on failings in the tribunal’s overall decision-making. He contended he did not prepare the grounds for three cases brought before the tribunal, saying any similarity to cases he did prepare might be due to detainees in the same location sharing documents. Ip also argued that the tribunal failed to appreciate he could not be held liable or responsible for issues that fell outside the scope of his retainer.
Mr Justice Lane emphasised that a client care letter was not necessarily a determinative statement of what the solicitor may, in practice, undertake to do. Even if a ‘weak spot’ existed in immigration rules, the judge ruled, that simply increased the solicitor’s professional obligations to the court or tribunal.
He ruled that the tribunal was entitled to find Ip’s failings were part of a ‘systematic course of misconduct’, and found nothing troubling with the SDT’s approach. The tribunal was entirely justified to include deterrence in its decision.
Lane added: ‘The SDT was not making any generalised criticism of those who practise in the difficult and demanding area of immigration law. On the contrary, it is only by the maintenance of high professional standards that solicitors who are discharging their professional responsibilities can safely enjoy the recognition they deserve.’
Dr A Van Dellen (Direct Access) appeared for Ip. Mr B Tankel (instructed by Capsticks Solicitors) appeared for the SRA.