Knowing who to trust to handle your immigration matter can be challenging, especially for individuals who have no knowledge of the regulatory environment for law in the UK. Make no mistake, not all immigration lawyers are the same. Choosing the wrong immigration Solicitor can make the difference between receiving clearance to leave of remain quickly and efficiently, and facing severe delays due to errors, or even outright refusal.
It is a requirement of the UK Home Office that anyone providing advice on immigration must be regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) or another regulatory body covered by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. These regulatory bodies include:
Immigration professionals who are not a member of any of the above regulatory organizations can apply to become an OISC accredited immigration advisor. To do so, they must pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and competency assessment. There are, however, no specific qualification requirements according to the OISC, "You do not need any specific qualifications to apply for regulation. However, your competence and fitness will be thoroughly assessed before you will be approved".
The SRA regulates the professional conduct of over 125,000 Solicitors in the UK, across over 11,000 law firms. To become fully SRA regulated, a Solicitor must have completed two distinct phases:
Stage 1) the academic stage - This is achieved by gaining a university degree in law (LLB) or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The former takes between three and four years; the latter takes one year (those using this route must already have a degree).
Stage 2) the vocational stage - The vocational stage consists of the completion of a Legal Practice Course (LPC), a period of recognized training of two years (PRT), and the Professional Skills Course (PSC).
Once authorized and regulated by the SRA, lawyers are required to follow a strict set of regulations and standards. These include the following:
SRA regulated immigration lawyers must act in accordance with seven principle, specifically:
The SRA ensures that client money, trust money, and money held for third parties is kept safe. This includes the handling of client money, client accounts, separation of client monies, withdrawals from client accounts, payment of interest, and client accounting systems and controls.
Code of Conduct for Solicitors
This outlines the standards of professionalism expected by the SRA (and the public) of individual Solicitors. This includes, among other factors, maintaining trust, acting fairly, competence, and client money handling.
Code of Conduct for firms
The code of conduct for firms defines the standards and business controls that the SRA and the public expect of firms (including sole practices) authorized by the SRA. SRA approved immigration law firms must implement business systems that enable them to adhere to the SRA compliance, including record keeping, monitoring business risks, and ensuring financial viability.
Assessment of character and suitability
Solicitors must satisfy a strict set of criteria relating to satisfactory character and suitability. To do so, the SRA must be confident that its members are (and remain) of "good character", suitable for the role they are undertaking, that they will "protect the public and the public interest; and maintain public trust and confidence in the solicitors' profession and in legal services provided by authorized persons". This set of rules also deals with individuals applying to be SRA members who have a criminal record or have been found to have acted in a manner which is dishonest, violent, threatening or harassing, where there is evidence of discrimination against others, in addition to financial dishonesty, bankruptcy, a history of unsatisfactory management of finances, and possession proceedings.
The main aims of the SRA are to "set, promote and secure in the public interest, standards of behavior and professional performance necessary to ensure clients receive a good standard of service and the rule of law is upheld".
As such, the SRA is highly revered domestically and globally as a legal regulatory organization. In part, this is due to the effectiveness of their ongoing supervisory and disciplinary process, which exists to take action where there is any concern regarding a regulated law firm or an individual working within it. The SRA receives complaints in a variety of ways, including self-reports, other employees, other firms, clients, law enforcement agencies, the courts, the Legal Ombudsman, and other regulatory bodies.
Any breach of a principle or rule will be taken seriously, and if deemed serious enough will be investigated further, whether by an individual lawyer or by a law firm. If there is evidence that a serious breach has occurred, the case may then be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Individuals found guilty of breaching the SRA's rules, and principles may face sanctions including being struck-off of the roll of Solicitors, revocation of a practicing certificate, and placing conditions on the practicing certificate.
Anyone looking to engage the services of immigration Solicitors can be assured that by choosing an SRA regulated immigration law firm, they will benefit from the full weight of checks and balances applied to all other parts of the law industry. By choosing carefully at this stage, you will give yourself and your family the best chance of being granted immigration approval; take your time, and choose wisely.
Related Article: Why You Should Choose an SRA Regulated Immigration Law Firm
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My Tier 1 Investor Visa was dealt with quickly and without issue. Would recommend Reiss Edwards as an Immigration law firm in London. Thank you to the team.
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