The Solicitors Regulation Authority has vowed to highlight the good work of asylum firms after finding a ‘broadly positive’ picture of the sector. The SRA today reported back on a review involving 52 visits to firms where staff were interviewed and files randomly selected for scrutiny. The firms involved together dealt with 14,000 asylum cases this year.
While bad practice was found at a ‘handful’ of firms which will be subject to investigation, the regulator stressed it wanted to share good news about solicitors involved in such a complex and sensitive area.
‘Given the potential vulnerability of asylum seekers, it is important that we make sure they are receiving a high standard of legal services,’ said chief executive Paul Philip. ‘We found that generally solicitors are meeting the expected standards. It was also encouraging to see many examples of firms going above and beyond to meet their client’s needs.
‘Yet there are still areas where things could be better. We hope our report and guidance will help firms address those concerns and improve. We will take robust action where necessary and will be monitoring overall progress closely.’
In general relationships with clients were found to be strong and solicitors understood the background and circumstances of those they were advising.
The SRA found poor behaviours included firms accepting referrals from interpreters who are then automatically allocated to the client’s case, an absence of training or guidance to address the needs of vulnerable clients, and assumptions that clients can understand information in English.
There were also failures to keep clients informed as to their current levels of costs and judicial review pursued supported by ‘vague and generic’ grounds.
The results of the research will be circulated to bodies such as the Legal Aid Agency, Home Office and Legal Ombudsman. Guidance will also be published for solicitors to learn best practice.
Speaking at the SRA board meeting today, former Liberal Democrat MP David Heath said the report can help to change politicians’ perceptions about lawyers working in this field. ‘MPs see the [worst] cases and not the people who have had good advice,’ he said. ‘Currently there is a certain view amongst those in parliament – this [report] reflects a rosier view than the majority of their experiences.’