11:42, June 09 356 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-09 11:42:02
Law firm Leigh Day cleared over Iraq murder compensation claims

The law firm Leigh Day and three of its solicitors have been cleared of all the allegations of professional misconduct they faced over Iraq war murder compensation claims.

The not guilty verdicts delivered by the solicitor’s disciplinary tribunal (SDT) in London are a severe setback for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which launched the costly prosecution, and the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, who had called for legal action.

The SRA can appeal against the findings of the seven-week trial, which is believed to have cost as much as £10m and came after a three-year investigation by the SRA.

None of the 20 charges against Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther, or the London law firm, were proved.

Summing up the SDT panel’s findings, its chairman, Simon Tinkler, said it had “found that none of the allegations made have been proved.”

The case involved allegations over the way in which legal claims - that British soldiers tortured and murdered Iraqi detainees after the so-called battle for Danny Boy near Basra in 2004 - were pursued.

Fighting had erupted after members of the Mahdi army Shia militia ambushed a UK military patrol. It was alleged that some Iraqis were captured and taken back to a British base where they were supposedly tortured and murdered.

The claims were subsequently found to be fictitious by the £31m al-Sweady inquiry in 2014. It was also revealed that the Iraqi claimants were not innocent civilians but members of the Mahdi army.

Confirmation of their military role was contained in a personnel list issued by Shia militia group the Office of the Martyr al-Sadr (OMS), which revealed Leigh Day’s clients were Mahdi army fighters.

The OMS list had been in the possession of Leigh Day since 2007 but the firm initially failed to appreciate its significance or hand it over to other lawyers, the high court or the al-Sweady inquiry.

Leigh Day, its partners Day and Malik, and Crowther all denied any wrongdoing.

An MoD spokesman said: “We have noted today’s decision and are disappointed that, unlike in the case of Phil Shiner’s Public Interest Lawyers, the tribunal has not agreed with the concerns we have raised.

“We will continue to both vigorously defend any opportunistic claims when we believe they are false or exaggerated, and to bring any evidence of wrongdoing to the attention of supervising bodies.”

A spokesman for the SRA said: “We note the judgment handed down today. We need to wait and see the full detail and rationale behind the tribunal’s decision. We will then consider the possibility of an appeal.”

Martyn Day said: “We are pleased that the tribunal has cleared us of all the charges, and confirmed our view that we did not act improperly or dishonestly in these legal claims against the Ministry of Defence.

“For nearly 40 years I have battled on behalf of the ordinary man and woman in this country and abroad to ensure they get access to justice not least when they face the might of British multinationals or government. I am very pleased that I and my colleagues can now get back to doing the work we love.

“We would like to thank our insurers and our fantastic legal team and counsel for all their hard work over the past couple of years, and during this hearing, and all those within the legal world and beyond who have given us such strong support.”

A further hearing to assess and apportion costs will be heard at a later date.

Leigh Day worked with the Birmingham solicitor Phil Shiner to represent Iraqi clients in parallel legal actions. Shiner was struck off by the SDT in February for dishonesty over his handling of war crimes allegations against the British army.

He did not appear at his hearing and 22 misconduct charges were found proved in his absence.

Patricia Robertson QC, who represented Leigh Day, had accused the SRA of being unprincipled in attempting to use the Shiner judgment as a “short cut”.

She told the tribunal that the law firm’s failure to recognise the significance of an Iraqi document that identified its clients as militiamen rather than civilians was a “cock-up” and did not demonstrate a lack of integrity.