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British National Crime Agency investigating up to 100 lawyers

The National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom is investigating up to 100 lawyers suspected of assisting human traffickers in obtaining asylum in the United Kingdom.

British National Crime Agency investigating up to 100 lawyers

The National Crime Agency (NCA) of the United Kingdom is prepared to prosecute up to 100 lawyers it believes are assisting human traffickers in obtaining asylum in the United Kingdom.

The organisation is identifying solicitors who may be violating their professional code or committing crimes by offering assistance to organised crime.

Albanian criminal gangs, according to UK ministers, are abusing the modern slavery and asylum systems at a time when a record number of people are sent to the Home Office as potential victims of exploitation.

According to the publication, the NCA has begun the process of investigating which attorneys may be supporting criminal gangs, with the agency believing that "tens" of solicitors may be involved.

The NCA's modern slavery and human trafficking unit, led by Rob Richardson, is in "target identification" mode.

He said: “One of the things that we’ve seen is an increase in how organised crime groups use third parties to abuse protective mechanisms.

“So it’s been well reported that there are concerns that particularly Albanian organised crime groups are frustrating law enforcement efforts by claiming that they are victims of trafficking or seeking asylum, and where we are particularly interested from a NCA perspective is how does the legal industry, how do lawyers, support organised crime groups to do that.

“So we’ve seen some examples where individuals have got scripts. They’ve been told exactly what to tell policemen to get picked up. And we have concerns about how that works,” he said.

According to the media organisation, the UK government is currently attempting to remove temporary protections from removal granted to suspected victims of modern slavery or human trafficking while their cases are being reviewed under the unlawful migration bill.

Mr Richardson said that he was aware of the difficulties and sensitivity of the NCA's investigation of the legal profession because of the privilege afforded to communications between a lawyer and their clients.

He stated that the agency will collaborate with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, among others, to penalise or dismiss non-compliant lawyers if prosecutions were not viable.

He said: “I know this sounds like a cliche, but not one agency can tackle those kind of issues, so when we’re looking at tackling lawyers we do have to be careful because there are aspects of legal privilege.”

Richardson added: “We will often see individual circumstances or individual accounts, where it is believed that, you know – I’m going to be careful not to use the word ‘corrupt’ – a non-compliant solicitor is advising in an organised crime group.

“So, what we need to do in the first instance is demonstrate that this is a real threat. And then look at kind of building some strategies around bringing together the appropriate plans to be able to tackle it.

“We are working with our partners. We are conducting a survey at present to understand who are the high-risk agents but we haven’t a sense of scale yet … It’s less than 100, it may well be in the 10s, I would estimate.”

The NCA now has new statutory weapons at its disposal as it looks to target attorneys suspected of collaborating with trafficking groups. Making a referral of a case of modern slavery in "bad faith" is now a crime under Section 63 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

“It is early days and we’re looking at what our tactical options are,” Richardson said. “When we are testing new legislation as well, we’re often in a position of creating legal precedents. So that’s why the process might take a long time.”

Mr Richardson stated that pursuing lawyers was only one possibility as evidence was being gathered by agency personnel.

"It's an extremely resource-intensive option, and it's not always the most effective," he said. And so, because we have a responsibility to protect the public purse, it is possible that we can persuade Home Office officials [and] policymakers to look at how processes, such as the asylum system, the national referral mechanism, and other protective mechanisms, could be changed to prevent this from happening in the first place. And I believe it is also an option."

According to official numbers released this month, 4,746 persons were reported to the Home Office as potential victims of modern slavery from January to March, representing a more than a quarter increase over the same period previous year.

The NCA will begin a campaign in June to combat such exploitation, with Richardson stating that organised criminal gangs were increasingly utilising a business model incorporating phoney recruitment firms in that sector and others.

He said: “They will provide building workers to the site but ultimately, then all of the wages will get paid to that recruitment agency, and then they don’t pay the workers and essentially it’s theft of their wages, and that’s the most prevalent one.”


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