Tribunal to begin hearing allegations of Leigh Day misconduct
Seven-week hearing into Iraq claims commences with partners facing potential strike-off
Leigh Day and three of its solicitors face charges before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal this week following misconduct allegations brought by the profession’s regulator.
A seven-week hearing commences today, 24 April, to ascertain whether the firm’s senior partner, Martyn Day, and partner Sapna Malik, along with junior solicitor Anna Crowther, are guilty of 19 charges of misconduct. All deny any wrongdoing.
The allegations against the firm stem from its acting on behalf of Iraqi citizens who sought compensation from the Ministry of Defence for claims of unlawful detention, injury, or death caused by British forces in Iraq.
The Al-Sweady inquiry cleared British soldiers of the unlawful killing allegations, but found there had been mistreatment of detainees following the Battle of Danny Boy in 2004. The inquiry found those who had died had been members of the Mahdi Army militia.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority alleges the late disclosure of a document - the so-called OMS list - that showed nine detainees were insurgents led to a delay in Leigh Day withdrawing the allegations of torture and murder.
In its charges against the firm, the regulator states that, at a press conference in February 2008, ‘Mr Day made and personally endorsed, and Ms Malik permitted to be made and personally endorsed by Mr Day, allegations that the British Army had unlawfully killed, tortured, and mistreated Iraqi civilians, in circumstances where it was improper to do so’.
The SRA also alleges that the firm entered into an ‘improper’ fee-sharing arrangements with an individual known only as ‘Z’. The regulator states Day and Malik ‘authorised’ the payment of ‘prohibited’ referral fees of £25,000 and £50,000 in relation to historic cases.
In a statement issued ahead of the tribunal hearing, Leigh Day said it would continue to vigorously defend itself against the SRA’s allegations and that lawyers should be able to bring cases before the courts ‘without fear of recrimination or reprisals’.
‘We believe that it is essential for our democracy that lawyers can bring claims before our courts, whether on behalf of service personnel or civilians, against the [MoD] or any other government entity,’ the partnership said. ‘We are a firm of over 400 professionals who remain committed to assisting individuals seeking to uphold their rights.’
Despite the allegations made against the firm, the MoD has so far settled over 300 of the claims brought by Leigh Day’s clients, including those where Iraqis died while in British Army custody.
Leigh Day recently alleged that the SRA’s prosecution was politically motivated, suggesting that the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, may have pressured the regulator into bringing its action against the law firm. Both the MoD and the SRA have denied the accusation.
The longest tribunal hearing in the past two years ran for 16 days, but the hearing into Leigh Day’s actions is set to dwarf even that, with around 30 days of evidence expected over seven weeks.
Also commenting ahead of the hearing, Iain Miller, a partner at Kingsley Napley, said: ‘This is one of the most high-profile cases the SRA has brought in many years, given the unusual degree of government and public interest. Unlike the recent process involving Phil Shiner, we can expect a closely fought case.
‘The stakes are high with reputational damage, a large fine, and even revocation of authorisation and partner strike-off being among the spectrum of potential outcomes if Leigh Day and its two partners cannot succeed in contesting the allegations.
‘However, it’s a mid-sized, multi-practice firm and my view is it will ultimately weather the storm. Undoubtedly Leigh Day faces an uncomfortable spotlight for its past work on Al Sweady but my prediction is they’ll be down for a bit, but most certainly not out as a result of this process.’
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor at Solicitors Journal