An immigration lawyer who told an asylum seeker with no money that he was not entitled to legal aid and channelled fees through her personal account has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Keisha Hackett, admitted in 2016, was working as a consultant for Duncan Lewis Solicitors when she acted for an asylum seeker on a private retainer after failing to assess his eligibility for legal aid funding, the judgment states. The tribunal also found that Hackett instructed her client to pay a fixed fee of £2,400 into her private bank account and did not give him a receipt. She paid £300 in cash into her personal debit account.
According to the judgment, Hackett made ‘catastrophic’ decisions, failed to act with integrity and acted dishonestly. It said: ‘The respondent’s actions, which had been for personal gain, had been deliberate and calculated. The respondent had taken advantage of Client A who, as an asylum seeker and with very little knowledge of the legal system, had been an inherently vulnerable person.’
However, it added that it had been a ‘sad case in which the sums involved were relatively small’.
Hackett claimed she did not undertake a legal aid assessment as her client had said his brothers would help pay for legal advice. She also told the tribunal that, at the relevant time, she found herself in ‘extremely difficult and traumatic personal circumstances’.
During the period covered by the allegations Hackett said she became involved in proceedings with her ex-husband which involved her obtaining a non-molestation order against him. The proceedings caused her ‘much anxiety, stress and worry and had an adverse effect upon her and her work,’ she said.
However, the tribunal found that ‘whilst the respondent had no doubt been under stress there was no evidence that her mental state was so impaired that she had lost control of her actions and had not realised what she was doing’.
Hackett was struck off by the tribunal and ordered to pay costs of £14,375.
In a statement, Jason Bruce, practice manager at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said: 'As a company we are proud to be a leading voice for vulnerable clients, throughout the country, who seek access to justice. This is a position that we take seriously and abhor the fact that Duncan Lewis has been associated with Ms Hackett's conduct... We thank the Solicitors Regulation Authority for their efforts in this matter.'