Three lawyers cleared of professional misconduct over their handling of claims against the British military have failed to recover nearly £6 million in legal costs.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ruled that lawyers at Leigh Day in London were not entitled to have their legal costs reimbursed despite being acquitted.
The firm, two of its partners and a junior solicitor had faced multiple charges of professional misconduct relating to their handling of cases for the 2009 al-Sweady inquiry.
Regulators prosecuted the firm and the three lawyers, including the practice’s founder, Martyn Day, on charges of misconduct.
The longest running and most expensive prosecution brought in English legal history ended last June with the firm being cleared on a majority decision of the three-strong tribunal panel.
The Leigh Day lawyers then applied to the tribunal to force the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to pay 75 per cent of its legal costs in defending the action.
That would have amounted to £5.8 million. However, on Friday the tribunal ruled that there be no order for costs.
The tribunal was divided. Its chairman, Simon Tinkler, a partner at the City of London law firm Clifford Chance, dissented on several points suggesting that the SRA should pay some of Leigh Day’s costs.
But the majority view relied on a 2006 High Court ruling stating that only in exceptional circumstances should the profession’s regulator be forced to pay costs for bringing a failed prosecution.
The tribunal followed that court’s view that imposing costs orders more generally would deter the watchdog’s from bringing potentially difficult and expensive prosecutions.
Reacting to the ruling, a spokesman for Leigh Day said it would take advice on a possible appeal, which it would need to lodge by December 21.
“We are disappointed. Given the fact that over 250 charges against the firm and colleagues here were found unproved, we believed it was appropriate to seek some measure of the costs involved, paid both by ourselves and by our insurers, in defending ourselves.”
The SRA has said that it intends to appeal the main ruling that Leigh Day was not guilty of professional misconduct. It has 35 days from the costs ruling to make an application.
The costs decision came a day after a High Court judge backed Leigh Day’s claim in four test cases that British soldiers breached the Geneva conventions by inflicting “inhuman and degrading treatment” on a different group of Iraqi civilians.
The court ordered the Ministry of Defence to pay nearly £85,000 in compensation to four victims and the ruling could open the way for more than 600 more claims.