Refugee board releases guide to deal with bad lawyers, consultants

The twitter traffic I have seen from immigration lawyers applaud this (overdue) move:

The Immigration and Refugee Board has issued new guidelines to help its decision-makers and the public deal with complaints involving allegations of substandard legal representation.

“In the past, there were no formal procedures established at the board for dealing with allegations against former counsel, and each situation was dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” said spokesperson Anna Pape.

“Now, after internal and external consultation, the IRB has developed its own protocol to guide the decision-makers and the parties, based on the procedures in the Federal Court and in other courts.”

While some complaints about counsel raise legitimate concerns, others can be controversial because people may make them to try to delay proceedings or to demand that their case be reopened in the event of a negative decision.

Among the most high-profile complaints in recent years were from Roma refugees against three Toronto lawyers — Viktor Hohots, Joseph Farkas and Erzsebet Jaszi — who were later disciplined by the Law Society of Upper Canada, only after most of the complainants had their claims rejected and were deported with no redress.

The refugees’ complaints alleged the lawyers accepted legal aid retainers but abdicated their professional responsibilities, engaged in professional misconduct and negligently represented their clients, and ultimately led to their claims being rejected. Most only raised their concerns to Toronto’s Roma Community Centre when the majority of their claims were refused.

While critics welcome the guidelines and believe they can help ensure decision-makers take such complaints seriously, some said they are long overdue, coming four years after the Federal Court published similar protocol.

“It’s interesting that it took the board this long to develop a formal policy,” said York University law professor Sean Rehaag, co-author of a 2015 study that examined the odds faced by Roma in Canada’s refugee system, including inadequate legal representation.

“The biggest problem is these people are vulnerable. They may not know their rights or speak the language and are scared of retribution. There will never be full assurance against problematic counsel.”

The new guidelines apply to the board’s four tribunals that deal with asylum claims and appeals as well as immigration detention and appeals. They detail the steps individuals must take to complain against their counsel and the documentation they need when the issue arises in the middle of a proceeding or after a decision is made.

Complainants must provide the board with documentation showing they have informed their former counsel about the allegations and provided them 10 days to respond to the claims. They must also release their solicitor-client privilege to the extent necessary to allow former counsel to respond to the allegations.

Meanwhile, adjudicators can give direction or issue orders to make the proceeding fairer or more efficient despite the guidelines. They may also disclose a counsel’s breach of professional obligations, such as incompetence, negligence and misconduct to relevant regulatory body.

According to Pape, the board reported complaints against 10 lawyers and nine immigration consultants to their respective professional regulators in 2017. So far this year, they referred three lawyers and two consultants to their licensing bodies.

Source: Refugee board releases guide to deal with bad lawyers, consultants

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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