Lawyers are helping a child sex grooming gang avoid attempts to deport them by obstructing the courts and “weakening the rule of law”, Britain’s most senior immigration judge has warned.
Mr Justice Bernard McCloskey accused taxpayer funded lawyers representing the gang of treating the immigration tribunal, which will decide whether they should be allowed to remain in Britain, with “sustained and marked disrespect”.
The case has raised fears that convicted criminals are adopting a strategy of timewasting and obstructing the courts in an attempt to put off any possible deportation from the UK as long as possible.
The judge said there had been “multiple recent examples of similar conduct and misconduct” and has urged Government legal officials to mount an investigation into such cases.
MPs have accused lawyers of making money by “gaming the system” and using delaying tactics to spin out cases.
The gang from Rochdale are appealing against a decision by then then Home Secretary, Theresa May, to strip them of British citizenship as the first step to deporting them.
The four men, led by ringleader Shabir Ahmed, 63, were convicted in 2012 of preying on girls as young as 13 in Rochdale, plying them with drink and drugs before they were “passed around” for sex.
Ahmed, who first came to the UK in 1967 aged 14 and was described by the judge at his trial as a “violent hypocritical bully”, was given a 19-year sentence at Liverpool Crown Court in May 2012 for a string of child sex offences, including rape.
He was also jailed for 22 years, to run concurrently, in July 2012 for raping another child 30 times over a decade.
As well as appealing against deportation Ahmed appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), claiming his convictions for child sex offences were a conspiracy by police and members of the jury to “scapegoat” Muslims. He lost the claim.
Three other men convicted of child sex offences in the same case, Abdul Aziz, Adil Khan and Qari Abdul Rauf, are also appealing against being stripped of citizenship by the Home Secretary.
Their solicitors, Nottingham-based firm Burton and Burton, are funded at taxpayer’s expense through the Legal Aid Fund, with their fees likely to be an estimated £50 to £70 an hour – which could add thousands of pounds over the course of the case..
In some of the strongest criticism delivered by a judge, Justice McCloskey, President of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, said: “The conduct of these appeals has been cavalier and unprofessional. The rule of law has been weakened in consequence.”
In a damning ruling Justice McCloskey said the men’s barristers and solicitors had failed to submit the necessary papers to the court and had repeatedly asked for adjournments.
Rajiv Sharma, the barrister who represented Ahmed, is a protege of one of Britain’s most famous campaigning lawyers, Michael Mansfield QC, and operates from chambers at the heart of Britain’s legal establishment in central London.
Barrister for the other three men was Zainul Jafferji, who specialises in human rights, personal immigration, commercial immigration and asylum law.
The solicitors for the men, Nottingham-based firm Burton and Burton, are funded at taxpayer’s expense through the Legal Aid Fund, with their fees likely to be an estimated £50 to £70 an hour – adding up to hundreds of pounds over the course of the case.
Mr Justice McCloskey described the circumstances which had forced him to adjourn the case last December as “frankly shameful”.
The judge, who is expected to deliver his decision on the men’s appeal against deportation this month, added: “Scarce judicial and administrative resources have been wasted in dealing with repeated unmeritorious requests by the Appellants’ solicitors for an adjournment.”
He also criticised Government lawyers representing the home secretary, saying that they had only produced a skeleton argument at the “eleventh hour” and only after repeated requests from tribunal staff.
“It was produced in egregious breach of the Tribunal’s Directions . . . A feeble and unacceptable excuse for this particular default has been proffered,” said the judge.
One of the other delayed cases referred to by the judge involved a 49-year-old Nigerian refused permission to stay in Britain after Home Office officials found he had cheated in English language tests required for permission to stay in the UK.
Justice McCloskey threatened to refer lawyers handling the Rochdale gang’s appeals to their professional bodies for disciplinary action, saying their behaviour could be regarded as being in contempt of court.
Rauf, 47, a father of five, originally from Pakistan who also acted as a religious studies teacher at a mosque in Rochdale, was released on licence in 2015 after serving half of a six-year sentence for trafficking a girl, aged 15, to the UK for sex, and for having sex with the youngster himself.
Aziz , a taxi driver, was cleared of two counts of rape but convicted of trafficking and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child and sentenced to 18 years.
He ferried the girls as far as Leeds and Bradford and was paid by the stream of men who used the girls for sex, getting £40 for each introduction.
Khan , 42, another taxi driver, was sentenced to 18 years for trafficking and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child. He came to Rochdale from Kashmiri Pakistan with his wife in 1997.
Tim Loughton MP, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which has investigated delays in deportation cases, accused immigration lawyers of “playing the system”, with some cases being spun out over months and even years.
“We are seeing lawyers going through all sort of procedural measures to delay and delay on their client’s behalf,” he said. “In some cases the Home Office simply give up and let these people go rather than incur any further expense in detaining them pending deportation.”
The Rochdale gang’s lawyers would not respond to the judge’s criticisms while the case was still being heard.
However both barrister are understood to have apologised for “any unintended disrespect” to the court arising from the delays.
Ahmed’s solicitors, Platt Halpern, said they had only received his case on a pro-bono – no fee – basis at “very short notice” and have since handed it over to Burton and Burton.
Mr Sharma said he had been instructed at very short notice and is no longer handling the case.
He added that he had “sought amends by sending personal apologies to the President for any unintended disrespect in an attempt to rebuild the ‘partnership between the legal profession and the judiciary’”.
Zainul Jafferji, barrister for Khan, Rauf and Aziz, said: “The issue is still under consideration by the Upper Tribunal, so any comment about the matter would be entirely inappropriate.”
Mohammed Mahruf, senior partner at Burton & Burton Solicitors, the Nottingham firm representing Khan, Rauf and Aziz on a legal aid basis, also refused to comment “while proceedings are on-going”.
The Government Legal Department said the Treasury Solicitor had apologised to Mr Justice McCloskey for any delays caused by the Home Office’s lawyers to the cases.
The Rochdale child sex grooming gang appealing against deportation
Shabir Ahmed, sentenced to 22 years
Shabir Ahmed, 63, was convicted in 2012 of being the ringleader of a group of men who preyed on girls as young as 13 in Rochdale, plying them with drink and drugs before passing them around for sex.
He was given a 19-year sentence at Liverpool crown court in May 2012 for a string of child sex offences, including rape.
Ahmed was also jailed for 22 years, to run concurrently, in July 2012 for 30 rape offences against another victim.
The three-times married father of four first came to Britain from Pakistan in 1967, aged 14. He is a British citizen but would not be rendered stateless if stripped of citizenship as he retains Pakistani nationality.
Adil Khan, sentenced to 18 years
Adil Khan , 42, a taxi driver, was found guilty of trafficking and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child.
He came to Rochdale from Kashmiri Pakistan with his wife in 1997 and started a sexual relationship with one young girl just a few weeks after the birth of his wife’s first child, a son.
The court heard he had got one 15-year-old pregnant, then passed another girl of the same age on to other men for sex, using violence to coerce her.
Abdul Aziz, sentenced to 9 years
Taxi driver, Abdul Aziz, 41, a married father-of-three, of Rochdale, was cleared of two counts of rape but convicted of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Aziz, who is of Pakistani origin, was said in court to have taken over as the main trafficker of girls.
He kept a stash of condoms in his taxi and ferried the girls as far as Leeds and Bradford and was paid by the stream of men who used the girls for sex, getting £40 for each introduction.
Abdul Rauf, sentenced to six years
Abdul Rauf, 43, Rochdale, a married father-of-five, was convicted of trafficking a child within the UK for sexual exploitation.
Rauf, a former religious studies teacher at a Rochdale mosque of Pakistani origin, who claimed to be a deeply religious, asked a 15-year-victim if she had any younger friends and would drive some of the girls to other men who would use them for sex.
He was released on licence in 2015 after serving half of a six-year sentence.
The gang’s lawyers
The barrister representing convicted child rapist Shabir Ahmed is a protege of one of Britain’s most famous campaigning lawyers.
Rajiv Sharma operates from the august surroundings of the 1 Gray’s Inn Square chambers led by Michael Mansfield QC, located at the heart of Britain’s legal establishment in central London.
He boasts on the chamber’s’ website that he “is known both for his ability as an ardent advocate and his vast legal knowledge” of immigration law
Sharma was instructed by Manchester-based solicitors Platt Halpern, who dealt with the case pro bono – for no fee – but have since passed it on to Burton and Burton the firm dealing with the three other gang member’s cases.
Naila Akhter, a partner at Platt Halpern, said the firm had been given Ahmed’s appeal to handle at very short notice and had been forced to ask for an adjournment in order to receive the necessary paperwork to defend their client.
She said: “It’s appalling that we’ve been criticised in this way as we had only acted for the client on that single occasion. We have been doing pro-bono work for many years, representing vulnerable and underprivileged members of society and I (and my business partners ) were devastated by the judge’s comments.”
Representing Khan, Rauf and Aziz were Leicester-based immigration and human rights barrister Zainul Jafferji, and Burton & Burton Solicitors, a Nottingham firm headed by senior partner Mohammed Mahruf.
Mr Jafferji, who was called to the bar in 1999, specialises in human rights, personal immigration, commercial immigration, asylum, EU law on freedom of movement and unlawful detention.
Speaking at Burton and Burton’s offices in a converted pub in Sneinton, Nottingham, Mr Mahruf said: “I have been advised that it would be best not to make any comment at this time while proceedings are on-going.”
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