THE ASYLUM GRAVY TRAIN; Fury as Scots Lawyers Rake in [Pounds Sterling]2m from Immigration Cases

Article excerpt

Byline: IAN SMITH

THE cost of legal aid for asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in Scotland has rocketed to more than [pounds sterling]2million a year.

Figures uncovered by the Scottish Daily Mail reveal the true scale of the legal aid bonanza being fuelled by the growing numbers of asylum seekers and other immigrants.

The massive influx of asylum seekers has seen the expense of legal battles against deportation multiply by three times in the past two years.

In 2002 the legal aid bill for asylum cases stood at [pounds sterling]724,000 - but last year it soared to [pounds sterling]1.7million.

The new total will not be published until the Scottish Legal Aid Board's annual report is presented to parliament in three weeks' time, but figures seen by the Daily Mail show it has risen well beyond [pounds sterling]2million.

The average legal aid payment for a case that goes to judicial review is [pounds sterling] 3,297, although repeated appeals can inflate the bill to tens of thousands for individual cases.

Solicitors have been accused of abusing the system by 'touting' for clients and taking on cases that have no chance of success. The Home Office has moved to stamp this out in England and Wales.

While no such cases have been proven in Scotland, some fear such dubious legal practices are growing.

But opposition politicians pointed the finger at the Government's embattled immigration and asylum policies rather than lawyers.

The Law Society for Scotland admitted the rise in asylum business had been so sharp that it has had to set up training courses to update solicitors on the immigration laws.

There are 140 firms registered with the society for asylum work, although it is thought only 20 actually provide the highly specialised service.

One leading Glasgow asylum lawyer, Ghazala Ahmed, said she had between 400 and 500 asylum and immigration clients on her books at any given time, earning between [pounds sterling] 300 to [pounds sterling]1,000 and more per client.

She declined to disclose how much she earns from the system, but added: 'I work long hours but I don't make great money. It is only about a quarter of what can be made doing private commercial law.' Aamer Anwar, 36, one of Scotland's best known lawyers, who has represented a string of high-profile asylum clients, has also insisted he does not make much money from legal aid in such cases.

Top firms dealing with immigration cases include Glasgow's Livingston Brown and Gray & Co.

Drummond Miller has a senior partner devoted to immigration and asylum law.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said the average cost of an asylum or immigration claim was [pounds sterling]376 to [pounds sterling]542.

But according to solicitor Cameron Fyfe, who specialises in human rights law with Glasgow firm Ross Harper, the going rate was [pounds sterling]1,000 and some cases could be much higher. He added: 'If it goes all the way through the appeals system and the Court of Session then it can ... run into tens of thousands of pounds. …