Leigh Day and three of its lawyers have been cleared of all charges over their pursuit of claims alleging torture and murder by British troops in Iraq. The disciplinary proceedings ran up £10 million in legal costs.
Leigh Day, its co-founder Martyn Day and his colleagues Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther faced a total of 47 misconduct charges over their handling of the claims against the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The claims alleged mistreatment and unlawful killing of captives at Camp Abu Naji in Iraq after the Battle of Danny Boy in May 2004. The allegations later turned out to be unfounded and the al-Sweady Inquiry, set up to investigate them, ultimately found the most serious allegations were “entirely false” and based on “deliberate lies” by Iraqis. The inquiry collapsed with costs of £31 million.
Along with Phil Shiner, a solicitor from the Birmingham law firm Public Interest Lawyers, who also brought the Iraqi claims, Leigh Day was prosecuted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority after an investigation lasting more than three years. Shiner admitted most of the allegations he faced and was struck off in February this year.
However the three-member panel of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found on Friday that none of the allegations of professional misconduct levelled against Leigh Day had been proved.
The Leigh Day lawyers had failed to disclose a crucial document in their possession since 2007 that revealed their clients to be insurgents and not innocent farmers, and which eventually led to the collapse of the al-Sweady inquiry, it was alleged. One of the solicitors had then destroyed the original document.
They had also publicised the “horrific and sensationalist” allegations without making proper inquiries as to whether they were true and had entered into improper arrangements to pay fees to an Iraqi fixer for cases to be handed over, it was alleged.
Relief for defendants
The case is thought to be one of the costliest prosecutions the SRA has pursued, running up a bill of more than £2 million in legal costs. Leigh Day spent more than £7.5 million in fees on its defence.
The three Leigh Day solicitors hugged and looked emotional as the tribunal finished clearing them of all charges after the 22-day hearing.
In a statement, Day said: “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.”