The government has announced a “task force” to root out dodgy lawyers after reports that false asylum claims are being submitted for a fee.
The Home Office said the unit would bring together regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and other government departments to act against solicitors and barristers found to be deceiving the courts.
The news comes following reports in the Daily Mail that a number of solicitors agreed to help an undercover journalist posing as an economic migrant submit a false application in exchange for thousands of pounds.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) prohibits lawyers from deceiving courts, and any act of dishonesty or lack of integrity may result in them being struck off.
But the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said the necessary powers are already in place to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.
It added the Home Office is focusing on a “tiny minority of lawyers” rather than “significant” asylum claim backlogs and “the unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act”.
The Home Office said the Professional Enablers Taskforce had been carrying out preliminary work over the past few months.
This has included the development of a new training package for frontline staff who work in the immigration system to help them identify and report suspect activity, according to the department.
There is no new funding for the taskforce
Police referrals have also been made where criminal activity is suspected, the Home Office added.
The announcement came after the first 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge, amid others being granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, speaking about the task force, said: “Crooked immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice.
“While the majority of lawyers act with integrity – we know that some are lying to help illegal migrants game the system. It is not right or fair on those who play by the rules.
“The British people want us to put an end to illegal migration – I am determined to crack down on these immoral lawyers and stop the boats.”
But Richard Atkinson, deputy vice president of the Law Society, said: “This ‘task force’ has been around for months now, so it is not clear what, if anything, the government is announcing today.”
He added: “The focus of the Home Office on a tiny minority of lawyers to which they are apparently applying considerable resources should not deflect from the fact that there remains significant backlogs in asylum claims or the unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act.”
For Labour, shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said it was “too little too late” and the “buck stops” with the Conservatives, accusing them of having “sat idly by for 13 years while illegal migration has spun out of control”.