Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report

6  New powers for the Immigration Services Commissioner

72. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 set up a system of regulation of asylum and immigration advisers. This system is supervised by an independent Immigration Services Commissioner (currently Mr John Scampion CBE). The Commissioner has defined the aim of the new system as being "to root out unscrupulous advisers … believed to be preying on the vulnerable and to promote good practice in the immigration advice sector". This is to be achieved by "intervention to improve the standard of advice given and by offering clients a forum for complaints about poor service".[64]

73. Since 1 May 2001 it has been unlawful for any person to provide immigration advice by way of business in or from the United Kingdom, unless they are registered to do so by the Office of the Immigration Services Commission (OISC), or are solicitors, barristers or legal executives regulated by their own designated professional body or European equivalent, or have otherwise been exempted from registration. When considering applications for registration or exemption, the Commissioner will look at organisational standards, levels of knowledge, competence and the character of those involved.[65]

74. The Government proposes to increase the powers of the Immigration Services Commissioner to investigate and take action against unqualified legal advisers and others who flout the existing regulatory scheme. This extension of powers was requested by the Commissioner in discussions with the Government following publication of his most recent annual report.[66] He expressed (in the words of the Government's summary) "particular concern about the activities of those non-legally qualified advisers who do not come forward for regulation", about "unqualified advisers evading regulation by setting up false supervision arrangements with solicitors", and about the handling of complaints by and lack of co-operation from certain designated professional bodies.[67]

75. The Bill provides that:

  • the Commissioner's staff will be empowered to enter the private or business premises of anyone suspected of providing immigration advice or services when unqualified to do so, subject to obtaining a court warrant (Clause 16)
  • there will be a new criminal offence of advertising or offering to provide immigration advice or services when unqualified to do so (Clause 17)
  • there will be a duty on designated professional bodies to co-operate with the Commissioner (Clause 19).

76. Citizens Advice "welcome and support these proposals, which should improve the effectiveness of the … regulatory scheme".[68] The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and Mr Peter Gilroy, Strategic Director of Social Services at Kent County Council, also supported the proposals.[69] However, the Law Society expressed concern that the proposed extension of the Commissioner's powers "is wholly disproportionate to the perceived problem".[70] The Mayor of London supported the principle of strengthening the effectiveness of the Commissioner, but called for more consultation on the details to ensure that legitimate refugee support groups are not discouraged from offering advice.[71]

77. We consider that the proposed new powers for the Immigration Services Commissioner, which have been requested by the Commissioner himself, are sensible and proportionate, and we urge the House to support them.

64   OISC Annual Report and Accounts 2002-03 (HC (2002-03) 741), published 3 July 2003, p 6 Back

65   Appendix, p 27 below; Ev 18 Back

66   Q 879 Back

67   AA 98, Annex A Back

68   Ev 17 Back

69   Ev 36-37, 28 Back

70   Ev 30 Back

71   Ev 34 Back

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