Immigration solicitor caught in BBC sting appeals strike-off

A former solicitor caught in a media sting advising an undercover reporter how to make a visa application has appeared in court to appeal his strike-off.

Sheikh Asif Salam was an immigration solicitor and sole practitioner at Cheshire firm Salam & Co Solicitors. He was recorded covertly during a phone call and then in meetings advising an undercover journalist how to obtain fraudulent accountancy evidence for a spousal visa application. Extracts from the recordings were broadcast as part of a BBC Radio 4 programme.

Salam was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in 2023 after he was found to have been dishonest. He was also ordered to pay the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s costs of £68,374.

Appearing in the High Court yesterday, Salam claimed he had known the reporter was not a genuine client and had been ‘play acting’ as he thought a business rival had sent her. He also alleged the recordings had been tampered with.

The court was told the reporter transferred the recordings to her producer immediately after the second meeting. The producer gave oral evidence at the SDT that he had not altered the recording and, to the best of his knowledge, it had not been edited.

Ian Skeate, for Salam, said his client had ‘an unblemished 30-plus [year] career’ and that the sanction imposed by the SDT was ‘harsh’.

He added: ‘In those circumstances where it was a one-off, and if the court finds the decision as to his dishonesty was fairly made and should be upheld or at least not interfered with, the appellant would ask the court to consider reducing the sanction to perhaps a suspension and/or a fine to reflect the fact this was a one-off, no harm was actually done.

‘It was a setup, and the journalist was there absolutely to provoke a breach. And subsequently there was some unfairness or disadvantage in the way the SRA failed to follow up what appeared to be, at the beginning, very important evidence [a statement from the journalist], that they could and should have procured.

‘This is a man that on his own evidence has served the community and continues to serve the community,’ Skeate said. 

Benjamin Tankel, for the SRA, said ‘many aspects [of Salam’s defence] were implausible’.

He added: ‘One does not normally have first-hand recorded evidence of wrongdoing. There were multiple recordings, recordings from separate devices. The SDT had transcripts from the recordings. The recordings were used as the basis of a radio programme from a genuine reputable news organisation. The recordings had been through an assurance process, editorial scrutiny and line by line [by the legal team].

‘In overview there is evidence of a chain of custody from the time the recording was made. There is also video. There is chain of custody evidence all the way from the meeting itself…until [the producer] hands it over to BBC Legal.’

Speaking of dishonesty, Tankel said: ‘When you’re instructing a solicitor with your greatest asset, you have got to be able to trust them to the ends of the earth. There is no room for dishonesty in the solicitor profession. Only in exceptional circumstances will dishonesty not result in strike off and there were no exceptional circumstances in this case.’

Judgment was reserved.


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