Leigh Day's Iraq conduct in the firing line.
Three human rights lawyers from firm Leigh Day have appeared before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) accused of knowingly bringing false claims that British troops ‘mutilated, tortured and killed’ Iraqi civilians. Opening submissions from the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) provide some very interesting insights.
The al-Sweady inquiry, named after a 19-year-old Iraqi killed by British troops, was set up in 2009 to examine allegations that 28 Iraqis were unlawfully killed by British troops in May 2004, that their dead bodies were mutilated by British soldiers, and also that Iraqi detainees were ill-treated. The inquiry badly lost credibility after it transpired many of the claimants had lied repeatedly, in what was termed by Ministry of Defence lawyers at the time as a ‘criminal conspiracy’ to pervert the course of justice in pursuit of compensation.
Leigh Day’s Martin Day, Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther currently stand accused, in essence, of pursuing the al-Sweady enquiry claims on the basis that their clients were innocent civilians whilst allegedly:-
- Withholding evidence within their possession which suggested some of their clients were either militia men within the Mahdi Army or linked to this Army.
- In the case of Miss Crowther, destroying an original document of such evidence the day before officials from the al-Sweady inquiry were due to assess the files.
- Paying unlawful referral fees to a third party for introducing publically funded claimants to Leigh Day.
- Failing to investigate concerns that the reimbursement of client expenses might look like ‘bribes’ (although the SRA do not suggest such payments were in fact bribes).
- Failing to properly manage documents within their possession and identify those most relevant to the enquiry in a timely manner.
Leigh Day and solicitors Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther deny any wrongdoing.
Of key importance to the case is the background of Khuder al-Sweady, a prominent Leigh Day client and introducer to other clients. It is said Leigh Day knew that he was linked to serious violence and intimidation, but instead presented him as just an innocent civilian for a considerable period.
Phil Shiner, former partner of Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) who worked alongside Leigh Day during the inquiry, was struck off in February 2017.
Unlike Mr Shiner who did not attend his SDT hearing, Leigh Day are actively contesting the allegations. There was an indication from Timothy Dutton QC, representing the SRA, that Leigh Day may argue there had been ‘dishonest collusion’ between the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice. Certainly, Leigh Day’s position is that the SRA have bowed to political pressure from the Ministry of Justice to initiate these proceedings. They also point out that the Ministry of Defence actually settled many similar Leigh Day claims on behalf of truthful Iraqi civilians. It is feasible that the firm had to sift through huge amounts of material of varying levels of credibility weight and relevance. It is also sometimes overlooked that, despite the controversy surrounding the al-Sweady enquiry, it did actually conclude that 9 Iraqi civilians were subjected to mistreatment by UK troops.
The Leigh Day case is due to last seven weeks before the SDT. Publication of the judgment could take even longer. It may well provide a fascinating insight into how the ‘demonstrably false’ claims within the al-Sweady enquiry could have been sustained for so long, and whether the failure to establish the truth earlier was due, in part at least, to legal misconduct. But the hearing may also provide an insight into the interplay, if any, between the politics of the government departments involved, and the actions of the SRA.
These proceedings will not be as long, as bloody, or as expensive as the Iraq war - but they might come close.
Click here to find out how Brett Wilson LLP regulatory solicitors can offer advice and representation in SRA/SDT proceedings.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.